Trouble in Paradise: Electronic Voting Machines Vulnerable

by Jordan Richardson on October 23, 2012

Ever since their inception, electronic voting machines have gone through some issues. Researchers have been aware of a number of security flaws related to the devices and have discovered a series of vulnerabilities that could have real-world applications.

With the American election finally about to take place after aeons of debates, attack advertisements and gibberish, millions of voters are set to cast their ballots on e-machines that are vulnerable to hackers. What’s more, some election officials have no real way to verify the accuracy of vote-counting because some states don’t use e-voting machines that print out paper ballots.

Since the Florida recount debacle in 2000, U.S. Congress voted to deliver federal funds to states to replace the punch card and lever systems of the past with newfangled electronic voting systems.

But the arrival of this new technology not only frightened senior citizens, it led to findings of vulnerabilities and problems that have yet to be effectively addressed.

“Every time they are studied, we find further problems,” said J. Alex Halderman, computer science professor at the University of Michigan. “It’s simply a matter of reprogramming these machines to be dishonest…That’s what we found six years ago and it’s still true today, and many of these machines are still in use.”

Princeton University students discovered that it took only seven minutes and some simple tools to install another computer program on a voting machine that would basically steal votes from one party and give them to the other. The 2008 study uncovered problems in the Sequoia Advantage voting machine.

The same voting machine in still in play in about six states, impacting nine million voters.

There also have been some issues with Diebold electronic voting machines and those factor heavily in 20 states, servicing an estimated 21 million voters. What’s particularly astonishing, according to researchers, is how easy it is to hack a voting machine in the United States.

To date there is no evidence that voting machines have been hacked during an election or that votes have ever been manipulated in such a fashion. Officials are prone to suggest that concerns over e-voting machines are overstated and access is, at least for now, an issue: hackers simply don’t have the time or seclusion to hack a voting machine.

But researchers have indicated that a hacker with access really only needs around one minute to install malicious code, which could be used to impact election results.

As society makes more moves to rely on technology, whether mobile wallets or e-voting machines, there are some considerations to keep in mind. In the rush to be current, it appears that some rather outdated mistakes are being made – mistakes that could prove ultimately costly not only to security but to the entire progression of open democracy.

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