People of a certain age will recall the great 1966 comedy film by Norman Jewison called “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.” It is about a Soviet submarine that gets stranded on an island off the coast of New England, and it hilariously captures the paranoia that was rampant during the Cold War.
Perhaps today we are in the middle of a new Cold War, where the greatest threats are not from nuclear weapons but from cyber attacks that can do unimaginable harm to our country. But most Americans today are not paranoid — in fact most people don’t even recognize the great threats that we face from Russia and other hostile foreign nations.
Remember the old saying: “You’re not being paranoid if people really ARE out to get you.” And we know that the Russians really ARE out to get us — again. This was proven during the 2016 elections, and it is no secret that they intend to disrupt the 2018 elections as well.
As Fox News recently reported:
“The Russians attacked Illinois, and now authorities vow to protect the state. “In a sense, it’s a declaration of war. It’s a cyberwar,” said Steve Sandvoss, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.
“When a foreign government attacks your system, obviously you know they are up to no good,” he told Fox News. “Elections being a central part of our democracy, being attacked by a foreign government I think everybody in the country should be concerned about that.”
As the national debate over election security focuses on ways to protect the integrity of our country’s election system, officials in Illinois know firsthand the effect of being attacked by Moscow. The invasion did not put any Russian troops on the ground, but millions of computer hits that attacked the state’s voter rolls for weeks during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security said hackers from the GRU, the Russian intelligence service, successfully attacked the Illinois Board of Elections computers. State officials said up to 80,000 voter registration records were accessed.
“I certainly don’t want to be on the front of any cyberwar,” Sandvoss said.” We are as prepared as we can be.”
But that is a huge question: are state election systems really as prepared as they can be for Russian cyber attacks this year?
Over the past 18 months the Illinois Board of Elections has put in better defenses and new procedures to protect state elections for the mid-terms and the 2020 presidential election. They are now using daily antivirus protection software, monitoring servers and daily logs, conducting vulnerability assessments, among other things.
“We haven’t seen anything of the caliber of the original attack,” Sandvoss said. “Our system gets hit every day by malicious software, but it gets stopped at the firewall level.”
“We are going to continue to be vigilant,” he added.
It appears that Illinois is prepared for the new Russian attacks that are sure to happen. The Russians really are coming, and we must make sure that every state has built their defenses and is ready to fight back to preserve our democracy.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.