Engineering Trust in Our Nation's Elections

February 2020
Carter Casey
Carter Casey

When cyber attackers go after our election systems, their actions strike at the core of our right to vote and to rely on an accurate and fair outcome. For network engineer Carter Casey, this scenario is exactly what he seeks to prevent.

"Even if a cyber attack on a voter registration system doesn't cause immediate damage, it can erode trust in the overall system," he says.

As the lead author on MITRE's recently released report aimed at securing voter registration systems, Casey is working to inform the technical teams that maintain election systems for state and local governments. 

Recalibrating to Pursue a Career in Computer Science

While protecting voters isn't exactly the career path Casey envisioned for himself as a pre-med student at Tufts University, he sees it as related to his overarching goal of helping people. It's just that he ultimately chose computer networks, rather than medicine, as his vehicle.

Casey first realized he had an affinity for networks during a required computer science course. He was surprised how much he enjoyed it.

"At that point, I had to recalibrate," he says. "But I liked computer science so much that it was worth it."

He took advantage of our long-standing relationship with Tufts to secure a summer internship at our Bedford, Massachusetts, campus. During the summer of 2016, Casey ran tests emulating an aerial network in which two aircraft repeatedly break and realign their network connection to exchange large amounts of data. Such a system might be used for search-and-rescue missions—definitely a way to help people.

He got hooked on his new field, and on working for the public good. That made MITRE a great place to start his career.

Tackling Security Challenges Across Election Systems

Less than a year later, and with an M.S. in computer science in hand, Casey came onboard full time as a network engineer at our McLean, Virginia, offices. Not long after, a coworker introduced him to the world of voting machines. She thought the inherent security challenges of the machines would be right up his alley.

From there, Casey met Marc Schneider, one of MITRE's foremost experts in election security. Casey started work on several MITRE-funded research initiatives Schneider leads, one of which is the report on security recommendations for voter registration systems.

The recommendations extend to every element in the system, from front-end systems to the data transfer processes.

Casey is also involved with other ongoing election integrity initiatives at MITRE, including the development of SQUINT (Social See Something, Say Something). SQUINT provides a fast, reliable way for election officials to report, correct, and analyze distortion and misinformation that could keep people from exercising their right to vote.

And he hopes to take advantage of a new National Election Security Lab on MITRE's McLean campus. He plans to conduct vulnerability assessments and forensic analyses on different voting scenarios.

He's also tackling election security for the National Institute of Standards and Technology as part of the team that's updating the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines.

The guidelines provide national voting system standards in the age of electronic voting equipment. The new version will expand on many areas, including security, with more precise information for voting system manufacturers and test laboratories. Casey advises on which security requirements to include.

Does he ever wish he had stuck with pre-med? "Not at all," he says. "Computer science is a lot more engaging to me. It can be frustrating and challenging, and I feel a huge responsibility, but it's also incredibly rewarding."

—by Twig Mowatt

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