Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America's Elections

There is nothing like an emergency - be it local, national or global - to remind us that democracy is a precious and vulnerable thing. Now, more than ever, we need to choose leaders that we trust, leaders who will act in our best interests.


No democratic system is perfect, of course, and no political party is infallible. For this very reason, we have a powerful tool to use if we desire change - our vote. However, what happens if that tool is compromised? What happens if our vote is attacked?


Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America's Elections, a gripping HBO documentary from directors Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels and Sarah Teale, examines this disturbing issue and explores what we can do to protect global voting systems from being hacked.


The film’s primary focus is on the situation in the US where voting is done via machines supplied by a small group of vendors. Despite assurances to the contrary, Kill Chain reveals that these machines are not secure from attacks - either by state approved hackers or “lone wolf” figures.


Our guide on this unsettling cyber journey is Harri Hursti, a Finnish election security expert. Early on in Kill Chain, he states that “once you understand how everything works, you understand how fragile everything is and how easy it is to lose it all.”


Duly warned, we soon begin to understand his concerns - the security processes in many computerised voting systems are deeply, deeply flawed.




Hursti has been raising awareness of this issue for many years. Kill Chain features footage from another documentary, 2006’s Hacking Democracy (from the same directing team). In this film, Hursti demonstrates - using only a memory card - just how easy it is to alter votes on digital voting machines. 


What did he get for his efforts? Nothing.


When Hacking Democracy was released, its findings were labelled a “sham”. In Kill Chain, Hursti explains that far more effort was put into “shooting the messenger” than into finding a solution to the cyber problems he raised.


It is shocking to think that Hursti warned us over ten years before the 2016 US Presidential election threw vote hacking into mainstream consciousness. In 2006, he reminded us that voting machines are essentially computers - and computers have the potential to be hacked. 


Having been dismissed and his concerns roundly ignored, Hursti would have been forgiven for moving on to new cyber challenges. However, as Kill Chain shows, he is as steadfast as ever - driven to raise awareness about this disturbing threat to our democracy. 


Thankfully, Hursti is not alone. Joining him in Kill Chain are an impressive number of “talking heads”. We hear from senators, academics, cyber security specialists and journalists. We are left in little doubt of the need to pay attention to an issue that has become a modern global battlefield.


There are no easy solutions, of course. However, Kill Chain does highlight a number of ways to keep the hackers at bay - starting with the need to keep our enemies close and to always respect a paper trail.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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