The ongoing digitization of all aspects of modern life has not stopped to exclude the government. With increasing online and data usage, government databases have positioned themselves as major targets for hackers and acts of cyber warfare. According to author Richard Clarke, cyber warfare is defined as actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation's computers or networks to cause damage or disruption. Broader definitions also include non-state actors, such as terrorist groups, companies, political or ideological extremist groups, criminal organizations, and hacktivists. In the United States, cyberattacks from these sources have been a cause for concern for years, as not only the frequency of data breaches has increased, but also their complexity and (economic) implications. In 2018, the United States was the country most severely affected by cybercrime in terms of financial damage: industry experts estimate that the U.S. government faced costs of over 13.7 billion U.S. dollars as a result of cyberattacks .

The United States is one of the countries with the highest commitment to cybersecurity, based on the Global Cyber Security Index . In 2019, government IT expenditure amounted to 88 billion U.S. dollars, and by 2021, this figure is expected to surpass 92 billion. In terms of budget allocation, the Department of Defense stands out as the primary recipient of federal cybersecurity spending , as the agency is responsible for protecting the United States from both offline and online attacks. According to the DoD's latest cyber strategy doctrine, its cyber goals include building and maintaining forces to conduct cyberspace operations, securing and defending DoD data, preparation for disruptive and destructive cyberattacks, and integrating cyber options and alliances into plans.

Looking at the number and scope of U.S. data breaches over the past few years, the growing federal expenditure and focus on cybersecurity becomes increasingly understandable. In 2018, 13,107 cybersecurity incidents were reported by federal agencies. The following year, the U.S. government accounted for 5.6 percent of data breaches and 2.1 percent of all exposed records . With more than 198 million compromised records, the December 2015 hack of the U.S. voter database is among the largest online data breaches worldwide . This incident is particularly interesting as the correlation between cybercrime and the U.S. electoral process has gained worldwide attention during the U.S. presidential election 2016 .

While many voters believe that the Russian government was responsible for hacking into DNC computers and leaking emails back in 2016, others fear that insufficient security measures might impact the upcoming 2020 election in a similar way. As the Covid-19 pandemic is already putting the U.S. ballot system to the test, online voting becomes an increasingly controversial issue among party officials and industry experts. How and where digital alternatives to polling stations will be available remains to be seen, as are the systems’ vulnerabilities to cyberattacks.


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