Following the U.S. election cycle at the end of 2020, election security became a topic on everyone's mind.
There was so much misinformation and a general lack of trust in the voting process, many questioned how accurately votes were counted.
In response, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) made the decision to update its voting system security guidelines for the first time in over 15 years with the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines 2.0 (VVSG). However, individual states may still set their own guidelines for election technology.
While security experts were happy to see an update to election security, some believe the VVSG did not go far enough and should have included a ban on wireless connectivity in ballot scanners and electronic tablets, because even when those capabilities are disabled, they still pose a security risk.
Listening to this pushback on VVSG, the State of Ohio made the decision to ban all wireless capabilities in its election equipment, saying that everything should be "air-gapped," meaning the technology cannot connect to any outside networks.
Ohio bans wireless connectivity in voting machines
Security experts who were displeased with the EAC's guidance wrote a letter to the commission saying any kind of device with Wi-Fi could be turned on accidentally:
"Networking capability can easily be enabled unintentionally through a misconfiguration, a software update, or a technical error."
They also mention that even if there is a possibility of an attack, public trust in the election process will be damaged.
The Ohio Board of Voting Machine Examiners, who reviews all election equipment in the state, listened to the experts and made the decision to air-gap its equipment.
Here is some of the language from its update:
"A voting machine shall not be connected to the Internet. A voting system or voting machine is prohibited from containing any wireless communication hardware or software components."
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose says this update was necessary because many election technology vendors sell products with wireless capabilities built in.
Here are some of LaRose's thoughts on the update:
"It's hard to find a printer that doesn't have wireless built in. But they are available. Now that VVSG 2.0 has come out, I think you're going to start having voting machine vendors that have wireless capability built in but say there's nothing to worry about because it's disabled.
Why even have that ability there that could be a vector for illicit behavior? Or it could create a public confidence problem.
I'm no luddite when it comes to this stuff. I'm all about embracing technology. But the actual casting of ballots, that should be completely air-gapped."
It will likely be a couple years before this air-gapped equipment is readily available for use in elections, but the writing is on the wall for more secure elections in the future.