Steffen Schmidt, IAFC Blogger
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.
The Iowa Republican Party is increasing security of the electronic systems it will use next week to count the votes from presidential caucusegoers. Law enforcement and cyber security geeks are also on high alert following a threat from a group of hackers delivered via video.
"The video claims to be from Anonymous, a loosely organized group of hackers that has claimed credit for attacks on targets ranging from the Peruvian government to Paypal," the Associated Press reports, and is attempting to peacefully shout down the caucuses.
Iowa's caucuses are run by the political parties (not the state) and on January 3, voters will gather in roughly 1,800 precincts across Iowa's 99 counties to declare their preference for a candidate. Those results are then reported to the state party. Here they are tabulated electronically and reported to the public and the news media on a website.
Reporting these results on time and accurately is very important - because candidates who do well in Iowa, the first contest of the 2012 elections, tend to gain momentum in the presidential race going into the second nominating contest a week later, while those finishing at the bottom may drop out.
The threat by Anonymous is especially serious because the group has been able to electronically manipulate data before. On December 25, they penetrated a security firm based in Austin, Texas called Stratfor, gaining access to the security firm’s servers and stealing detailed information on customers including the U.S. Department of Defense and major corporations.
Using similar methods in Iowa, the Anonymous hackers could either freeze the computer systems used to tabulate and report results or they could change the outcomes and have fictional winners such as Sponge Bob SquarePants. Either of these would deeply compromise the credibility of the Iowa caucuses and interfere with the 2012 race to the White House.
This threat comes on top of earlier plans that the Occupy Wall Street movement had announced, threatening to occupy and disrupt the Iowa event. I have received several calls interested in knowing if and how the caucuses could actually be disrupted. The truth is that it would be very easy since these are open to the public, and anyone can walk into one of the thousands of caucuses around the state. This would be another serious threat to the successful completion of a very long political contest in which tens of millions of dollars have been spent by Republican candidates.