Review by James Lindorf
Less than eight months away from the 2020 elections HBO’s latest documentary “Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections” seeks to expose the weaknesses is today’s voting technology. Filmmakers Simon Ardizzone, Russell Michaels, and Sarah Teale, the team behind HBO’s 2006 Emmy®-nominated documentary “Hacking Democracy,” investigate vulnerabilities in the myriad of voting systems currently in use and the risks they pose. The filmmakers brought in Finnish hacker and cybersecurity expert Harri Hursti to travel across the US and around the world to put the systems to the test. “Kill Chain” will debut Thursday, March 26th, at 9 pm ET.
Despite documented meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election by Russia, the US has moved slowly to update these failed systems. 2017, Hursti cofounded the Voting Village at the Defcon security conference. He took examples of every machine currently being used in the US. Dozens of hackers and defense experts were able to break into every machine over a 3-day weekend. We are shown the tests Hursti performs and the sometimes-diminutive lengths he has to go to purchase actual voting machines. The filmmakers also highlight real examples of irregularities from the last three years that could be the result of tampering.
One example is when Alaska’s public elections website was breeched on election day in 2016. In an anonymized on-camera interview, the man responsible explains how he could have altered votes to influence the outcome of the election. If one hacker was able to stumble upon a way to impact our elections, what kind of damage could motivated attackers do? Another example takes place in Georgia; this time, the threat isn’t another country or an angry hacker. Instead, it is coming from within the system. If someone running for Governor also controlled the voting machines, and if there were inconsistencies, what should be done?
“Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections” is an expertly crafted political documentary with moments that can terrify or enrage. Displaying what they now are facts as facts but smartly not treating the suspicions in the same matter adds a level of legitimacy and irrefutability to their findings. Hursti is not shouting at shadows in a tinfoil hat, he is recognized around the world as a security expert, and he deserves to be taken seriously. With topics like politics, hacking, and voting technology that the public only thinks about every couple of years, the filmmakers struggled with maintaining the entertainment at the same quality level as their information. The sheer amount of facts and speculation and how they are presented could overwhelm some viewers because there isn’t enough to grab their attention.