Boise State's new center boosts cybersecurity efforts for elections

Posted at 4:54 PM, Oct 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-28 18:54:01-04

BOISE — Boise State is working with the Idaho Secretary of State to boost election security. They've been awarded $500,000 to establish the Idaho Election Cybersecurity Center.

Boise State students in computer science have worked with the secretary of state for three years already.

"Basically looking at how we can raise awareness and provide exercises and conferences and training for county clerks, electoral staff, and basically to create this relationship between the two groups to help them with the training and anything related to election security," said Hoda Mehrpouyan, the director of the center.

The new center is for more than elections; it's also for research and training. However, research on 'social bots' is central to election cybersecurity.

"That's basically agents they try to make fake accounts on social media and try to sway voters in one direction towards one candidate versus the other and basically promote an ideology, social ideologies and all that, definitely one aspect of our center and research is to be able to detect and provide precise information for people and voters and all of that," said Mehrpouyan.

These bots have been around for years. Hoda says bots were identified on Twitter around the midterm election back in 2010, and close to 400,000 bots were discovered near the 2016 election. It's only increased since then.

"As we more rely on social media, unfortunately, these fake accounts there are more and more of them," said Hoda.

Beyond providing election security, the center also boosts students' experience looking for work in STEM in Idaho.

"We are trying to increase the workforce in cybersecurity at different levels with different expertise, our engineers, our political scientists. We all need to be able to work together to be able to solve cybersecurity problems," said Hoda.

"Even though technology makes things easier, it does have a little bit of consequence with it, and every one of us is trying very hard to make this an unbiased, free, and fair election," said Hoda.

The center is still in the early stages, currently operating out of the computer science department, but Hoda says they're working to have a physical location established and the website up and running.