Kill Chain: The Cyber War On America’s Elections Debuted March 26 On HBO
In advance of the 2020 Presidential election, KILL CHAIN: THE CYBER WAR ON AMERICA’S ELECTIONS, debuted THURSDAY, MARCH 26 (9:00–10:35 p.m. ET/PT), takes a deep dive into the weaknesses of today’s election technology, investigating the startling vulnerabilities in America’s voting systems and the alarming risks they pose to our democracy. From filmmakers Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels and Sarah Teale, the team behind HBO’s 2006 Emmy®-nominated documentary “Hacking Democracy,” and producer Michael Hirschorn, KILL CHAIN follows Finnish hacker and cyber security expert Harri Hursti as he travels around the world and across the U.S. to show how our election systems remain dangerously unprotected.
The film will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.
As the film uncovers, despite official claims to the contrary, individuals and foreign states can employ a dizzying array of simple, low-cost techniques to gain access to voting systems at any stage — from voter registration databases to actual election results to malware that can be widely distributed and anonymously activated without detection at any point. News reports and government agencies have chronicled dozens of seemingly random, unrelated security breaches in the past, but Hursti asks us to consider them as potentially part of a coordinated “kill chain” — a military strategy that employs meticulous, long-game attacks. At the end of this kill chain: a breakdown in the public’s trust in elections and with that collapse, a loss of faith in the democratic process itself. While outlining the startling ease with which votes can be altered, KILL CHAIN points to the clear, easy-to-implement solutions available to protect us against sabotage.
Hursti’s journey is supplemented by wide-ranging interviews with subjects including Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), along with cyber experts and key figures in the election security community such as founder of DEF CON and Black Hat Jeff Moss; former United States Permanent Representative to NATO Douglas Lute: former cyber analyst for the U.S. Air Force Jake Stauffer; Marilyn Marks of the Coalition for Good Governance; Professor J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan; UC Berkeley Professor of Statistics Philip Stark; and anonymous hacker CyberZeist, who describes hacking Alaska’s vote-counting computer systems on election day 2016.
Hursti has a long history of drawing attention to the vulnerabilities of election technology. In 2005, Hursti hacked into a widely-used voting machine in Florida and despite widespread public outrage, the same machine is slated for use in many states in the 2020 election. In KILL CHAIN, with humor and candor, Hursti travels across the country and to his homeland of Finland to assess the current state of election security and whether improvements touted by the election technology manufacturers since his legendary “Hursti hack” in 2005 have in fact made elections safer. Among the most disturbing revelations:
Returning to Florida, Hursti learns that prior to the 2016 election, the FBI alerted officials that a foreign power had targeted a Florida vendor that runs voter registration in eight states, an attack capable of wreaking havoc on election day.
In Washington, DC, cyber-security expert Andrei Barysevich describes how the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a federal advisory group that maintains comprehensive real-time data on every state in the country, was hacked by a Russian-speaking actor named “Rasputin,” in advance of the 2016 Presidential election.
Despite claims by election-machine makers that they keep units under lock-and-key, Hursti finds a warehouse in Ohio full of AccuVote TSX machines, a model that will be used in the 2020 elections, being sold on eBay.
At Nevada’s Def Con, the world’s largest hacking convention, attendees experiment with current voting machines and discover, among other revelations, that votes could have been altered remotely, even from a car driving past a polling place.
Jake Stauffer, a cyber security expert hired by the state of California to review their voting machines, reveals that he discovered basic and alarming security flaws that hackers could easily exploit.
During Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, Secretary of State and Republican candidate Brian Kemp had oversight of the election process and fought against replacing outdated, insecure Accuvote machines. Hursti and other election monitors are in Georgia on election day, as machine errors create lengthy wait-times at many polling places.
In California, Hursti meets with statistician Philip Stark, who created a method for “risk-limiting audits,” and found that a single machine at a polling place in a Democratic district in Georgia showed only Republican wins. Stark ran a simulation that found the likelihood of this disturbing anomaly to be one in a million.
A hacker, based in India, reveals that he hacked into Alaska’s voting systems on the day of the 2016 Presidential Elections and could have changed any vote or deleted any candidate.
As KILL CHAIN makes clear, the lead-up to the 2020 election will be a critical period for protecting the integrity of voting systems and our democratic process. As Senator Amy Klobuchar says in the film, “It’s not just about hardware, it’s the hardware of our democracy.”