So far, there's no sign of Election Day hacks or tampering — just a little rain

  • There has been a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt related to cybersecurity in the 2018 midterms.
  • But so far, the main problems have been related to the weather and other mundane problems.
Voters line up in the rain outside Bright Family and Youth Center in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. 
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP  
Voters line up in the rain outside Bright Family and Youth Center in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. 

"Fear, uncertainty and doubt," or "FUD." is a well-established term among cybersecurity professionals.

For some experts, it implies a negative tradition of basing security decisions on emotion rather than pragmatism. For others, it's the best leverage for getting a wary prospect to feel scared enough that he or she needs your services.

This election featured a lot of cybersecurity FUD.

Are the Russians in our voting machines? Are they hiding in our Secretary of State's office? Are they creating ludicrous "fake news" that is going to fool and sway other people who are dumber than me?

What about the opposing party? Are they attacking and taking down my favorite candidate's website ? Are they tampering with polling data?

With Election Day more than halfway done, it looks cybersecurity nightmares are going to be a no-show.

Instead, the main causes of Election Day chaos so far are rain, long lines, missing power cords and one foreclosure.

Downed power lines caused local precincts in Tennessee to break out paper ballots. In Georgia, technical errors attributed to a "lack of power cords" led to the same result. A building used for voting was foreclosed on the previous evening in Arizona, leading to a lock-out of poll-workers. Voter intimidation claims have cropped up in Texas, pitting the ACLU against Customs and Border Protection officials — two decidedly U.S.-based contingents, with no hackers in sight.

Curb the paranoia

The Department of Homeland Security has been preparing for today for more than a year. They've held cyber disaster practice runs, worked hand-in-hand with local precincts and tried to calm fears about hacking voting machines. (Which, by the way, is easy to pull off in a staged test environment at a cybersecurity conference, but almost impossible in real-time on Election Day).

As one top cybersecurity official at DHS said this morning, "There's a lot of noise out there, and a lot of it being pushed is propaganda. For the most part, it's all garbage."

There's been some misinformation spread online, but the DHS official saw no evidence of a massive campaign — only the vague malicious social media activity common "in all elections." Those attempts have mostly been shot down by the social media platforms on which they appeared, he said.

It's good moment to step back, temper our paranoia, and consider some of the genuine problems facing voters today.

Influence operations in advance of elections have been a staple of our voting process since the American revolution. They played a huge role in elections held during World War II. Misinformation and disinformation campaigns sowed plenty of discord during the Cold War.

These campaigns are serious. And malign operations were significantly ramped up during the 2016 election and after. The purpose of these campaigns, as the Mueller indictments clearly spelled out, was to create discord and doubt in the election process itself. It was not to change votes after they were cast or to spur outages at the polls.

Now, we all know to expect these kinds of campaigns. But it's surprising to see public officials pick up that fear flag and keep running.

We should fear that fear more than we fear Russians or the rain.

The only way to counteract FUD in this public sphere — and really, any malign influence campaign — is to use your brain, read the candidates' positions, figure out which one you like the best and vote for that person with confidence.

If you haven't already. There are a few hours left.