Election News

US Vote Systems So Easy To Hack

Free elections are a hallmark of a democratic republic such as the United States. But in this digital age, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of vote machines based on how easy they are to hack.

A year ago, at the 2018 DEFCON, the world’s largest convention for hackers, held in Las Vegas, Nevada, Rachel Tobac broadcast a video she recorded showing how she got admin access in less than two minutes on the same type of machine used by 18 states in their elections. The simple procedure required no tools.

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One detail overlooked by Tobac was the fact that most vote centers use numbered and color-coded tamper-proof seals that are logged each time they are removed and a new one substituted. It would be impossible to open the voting machine, as demonstrated in the DEFCON video, without breaking multiple security seals.

Still, this detail isn’t all that reassuring. And there are other ways to alter a computer’s programming or change stored data – election results, for example.

Another scary story from DEFCON came from their youth camp-in-a-conference called rootz, for attendees’ children to learn how to pick locks, hack smart TVs, and break into computer systems.

In 2018, an 11-year-old girl compromised a facsimile website hosted by one of 13 battleground states in 10 minutes! – and she was only the first of many capable children to overcome security measures guarding state election websites that rotated every 30 minutes. It took other campers less than 15 minutes to hack into whichever online state election platform was being tested at the time.

One convention participant who wrote about the incident observed:

“At the point I arrived in the room, the website for the state of Colorado was being projected on the wall, declaring that the candidate for the ‘Comnnunism’ party, Kim Jong-un, had won the state’s election with one quadrillion votes. (The runner-up, the rapper Lil Pump, apparently standing for the Democratic party, had just under 46m votes.)”

The year before, at the 2017 DEFCON, 30 computerized ballot boxes used in U.S. elections were set up to simulate a national White House runoff. Within an hour and a half, hacker attendees had broken into a voting machine wirelessly, exploiting a poorly-secured WiFi shared network connection, and exposed “an embarrassing low level of security” in the test.

Jake Braun, a former White House liaison on cybersecurity, and some other volunteer IT professionals have tested the national voting infrastructure for the past two years at DEFCON in their Voting Village. Braun said:

“Without question, our voting systems are weak and susceptible. Thanks to the contributions of the hacker community today, we’ve uncovered even more about exactly how.”

The test machines at DEFCON came from eBay or were purchased at a government auction. Several well-known equipment brands such as Diebold, Sequoia, and Winvote, were assessed by some very sophisticated computer compromisers.

From outdated software to “physical ports open that could be used to install malicious software to tamper with votes,” these vote machines were puny in their ability to ward off intruders of any age, young, old or in-between.

On August 13, 2018, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan named J. Alex Halderman gave a live demonstration at the EmTech conference sponsored by MIT Technology Review. The educator’s test subject was an AccuVote TSX machine which he had on stage with him.

Three volunteers operated the machine to conduct a mock election between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Here’s what happened:

“Cameras pointing at the screen and projected above the stage showed the three voters casting their ballots for Washington. Yet when Halderman printed the returns from the machine, the reported result was a two-to-one victory for Arnold.”

Halderman had altered the ballot programming by tampering with the physical memory card, the holy-of-holies handled only by certain vote center officials in a strict chain of custody. The professor had installed malicious software to change the votes – steal them, in effect – long before the voters showed up.

The AccuVote TSX machine is used in 18 states.

Voter registration databases and the digital devices used to check in voters at vote centers are also big targets for hackers who want to interfere with an election.

Ron Rivest, Institute Professor at MIT, said the solution to safeguarding computerized elections is simple: get rid of the computers and go back to the old-fashioned paper ballots that served Americans so well for so long:

“We need paper verifiable ballots, no internet voting, and we need to ensure we can audit ballots properly. Some kind of paper trail the voter can use to verify their vote is very important.”

National legislation to bolster election security called the Secure Elections Act is under congressional review and would force states to set up election audit processes and accountable paper trails.

In a move forward rather than back, West Virginia used mobile blockchain voting in a midterm election. The results were successful enough that the state plans to use blockchain technology in the 2020 national race.

Given the deplorable state of vote machine and state election website security, it’s clear that all U.S. states and territories need to hire some hackers to reveal the fatal flaws in their election systems. Only then can suitable solutions be put in place to ensure fair and honest voter results.

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Election News
5 Comments on this post.
  • Bill
    31 August 2019 at 3:41 pm
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    Well America tried to advance into the computer age with our voting process and because there are people insist on hacking it only for the sake of cheating Citizens of there voting rights we should know return to written ballots. If we were to stay with the electronic ballot method it should be made as secure as our Government’s top secret files and Bank files. Our votes determine who runs America’s top Office in Government. The American voters deserve there votes be protected at any cost.

  • Sid
    31 August 2019 at 4:31 pm
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    I Totally Agree! By keeping the Electoral Vote in play, we could simplify the process by returning our ballots directly by mail to the State Capital

  • Bruce
    31 August 2019 at 4:52 pm
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    You will never get the Democrat establishment to go along with anything that will project an honest vote. Just look at the fight going on at the present time concerning cleaning up voter records in some of these blue states.

  • Alice
    31 August 2019 at 7:33 pm
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    I live in St Lucie County Florida, and I am an election poll worker. We use machines to tally the votes, but also have paper ballots for every vote cast. In spite of that, I believe we STILL have massive voter fraud in the county, as voter rolls have not been reviewed or cleaned in forever. In 2012 we had 140% voter turnout. This year we also held a mail-in only election for school taxes, and I have serious doubts of the veracity of this vote. Looked to me like the SAME parcels of ballots were taken to be counted repeatedly, and the voter signed envelopes had been removed BEFORE we even SAW the ballots. The Supervisor of Elections was present, and made several anti-Conservative comments to her fellow “peeps” during our work, talking about her resentment that she is STILL being sued by a Conservative who was robbed of his Congressional seat by voter fraud and re-districting during that 2012 election.

  • Jason Casteel
    31 August 2019 at 10:45 pm
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    Absolutely, Sid. Some verification process MUST be implemented. Is the vote legal? Who voted? Why are there districts that have more votes than registered voters? All of these questions must be answered. Why are there boxes and boxes of ballots showing up that were “misplaced”? In the trunk of someone’s car. Found in a janitors closet. Behind some other boxes. All of these “excuses” sound quite a bit lame to me. For something to be so sacred, such as our elections, this type of carelessness, or out and outright fraud is completely unacceptable. Ballot harvesting in California. This just screams fraud to me and people need to be held accountable. The problem is it seems, when it is a Republican, they go to the electric chair. If it is a Democrat, it seems like it is just OK. I say this AS a Democrat. I do not like what appears to be going on in our elections. Win, lose, or draw. I want it to be fair. Decided by people who have a right to vote. Another reason I am for Voter ID. I do not believe that it is only a couple of fraudulent votes. I believe it goes far deeper than that. I don’t see what is the big deal about requiring an ID to cast a vote. You must show an ID to buy a beer, or a pack of cigarettes for that matter. Good Lord, to see an R rated movie! You need an ID to donate to an election campaign, but not to vote? How does that make sense? If some one could tell me. A response to this would be fine with me. A simple driver’s license, how tough is that? While we are mentioning drivers licenses, why is it that in traffic court you could hear 10 times, “driving is a privilege, not a right”? But if you’re here illegally, it is a right? Rights for people who have already showed no regard for our laws. I don’t get it. Not at all.fé

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