Barely a month before midterm elections, voting integrity advocates and electronic voting experts want the federal government to issue an official warning to states that use voting machines with integrated cellular modems that the machines are vulnerable to hacks, potentially interfering with the ballot counting. Once seen as a useful tool to provide quick election results, voting machines with cellular modems are now subject to fierce debate over how easy it would be to break into them and change the results. Such machines are certified for use in Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. … But a number of voting machine researchers take issue with such assertions, saying that cellular networks increasingly overlap with the internet and open avenues for hackers to interfere with unofficial early results even when there are paper ballots that can be tallied for a slower official count. They say interfering with unofficial early results, even when corrected later, could increase mistrust among voters and add uncertainty immediately after elections conclude.
“The voting machine vendors like to say, well, the voting machine modem is only used for transmitting the unofficial results when you close the polls back through the internet to county central where the clerk can post them,” said Andrew W. Appel, a computer scientist at Princeton University. “The problem is, that modem talking through the cell phone network really is more connected to the internet than they like to think.”
Appel said hackers could intercept signals using a portable cell phone tower, commonly called a Stingray, and even introduce malicious code through internet-linked cellular networks. “If you can talk to that modem, and if there are any security flaws in the voting machine software that talk through that modem, then the voting machine could be confused into installing new software that changes the vote,” Appel said.
Appel was among 30 researchers, activists and scientists who signed a letter this week urging the federal government to caution states from the use of such voting machines, citing their “grave concerns” that manipulation through cellular networks could “wreak havoc on an election.”