President Trump has signed into law a bill that makes hacking election systems a federal crime, a move some security experts hope will warn off potential cyberattacks.
The House of Representatives passed the Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act by voice vote on Sept. 21, more than a year after it passed in the Senate. The law covers electronic voting systems in the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or the CFAA, allowing prison terms to be up to 20 years.
The bill’s language was initially recommended in a 2018 Cyber-Digital Task Force report from the Department of Justice. Before the bill was passed, it was unclear whether hacking voting systems were covered in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, said Ken Underhill, CEO of cybersecurity consulting firm K&L Tech.
“Hacking election systems wasn’t specifically covered in the CFAA, and the concern was that since voting systems are not traditionally connected to the internet, there might be room for interpretation in the current law that would allow for a loophole for a defense team,” he told the Washington Examiner.
Before the new law passed, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act did not prohibit the act of hacking a voting machine “in many common situations” because they are not typically connected to the internet, the DOJ report said. “Consequently, should hacking of a voting machine occur, the government would not, in many conceivable circumstances, be able to use the CFAA to prosecute the hackers.” Hacking a voting machine could, however, violate other criminal laws, the report noted.
Although it might not have an impact on the 2020 election, the new law could have some positive effects, Underhill added. The new law “allows for more resources to be thrown” at election hacking, as well as harsh penalties, he said.
However, many hackers targeting the U.S. election live overseas in countries that aren’t interested in bringing charges against them, he added. “This legislation might keep some script kiddies from trying it, but I don’t see any measurable effect from this law change in keeping real criminal hackers from election system…