Home Virginia election security strengthened through efforts of college students across the state
Politics, Virginia

Virginia election security strengthened through efforts of college students across the state

Crystal Graham
election security Virginia
Sam Kennedy and Jake Slusher with Allison Robbins, director of elections and general registrar in Wise County. Photo courtesy of Sam Kennedy.

Virginia voters may cast their votes with even more confidence this election season thanks to efforts from Virginia Cyber Navigator college interns.

As part of this multi-university internship program led by Commonwealth Cyber Initiative researchers, 38 students from six universities worked with localities across the Commonwealth to beef up the security of election infrastructure.

“When you have the perception that your vote doesn’t count or that voting is irrelevant, it tears at the fabric of any democratic republic,” said Justin Monday who leads the Virginia Tech arm of the Cyber Navigator program.

Voting machines are not tied to a live network at any point, which lowers the threat level of ransomware or malware, Monday said. But that doesn’t mean somebody can’t physically access the server room and manipulate or extract voter information.

“Not surprisingly, a locality can vastly improve their security through something as simple as locking their server room door,” said Monday.

After completing the required coursework and a two-day bootcamp, Virginia Tech students Sam Kennedy and Jake Slusher, both business information technology majors, were deployed to Wise County.

“The interns helped implement our first countywide security awareness program,” said Wes Arney, the county’s director of information technology.

In addition, the interns assisted in creating an incident response plan and contacted the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to set up regular vulnerability risk assessments and scans.

The Cyber Navigator program launched in 2021 in partnership with the Virginia Department of Elections.

Other participating schools include the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University and George Mason University.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.