It could be one of the most disturbing e-voting machine hacks to date.
Voting machines used by as many as a quarter of American voters heading to the polls in 2012 can be hacked with just $10.50 in parts and an 8th grade science education, according to computer science and security experts at theVulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The experts say the newly developed hack could change voting results while leaving absolutely no trace of the manipulation behind.
“We believe these man-in-the-middle attacks are potentially possible on a wide variety of electronic voting machines,” said Roger Johnston, leader of the assessment team “We think we can do similar things on pretty much every electronic voting machine.”
… The use of touch-screen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems of the type Argonne demonstrated to be vulnerable to manipulation has declined in recent years due to security concerns, and the high cost of programming and maintenance. Nonetheless, the same type of DRE systems, or ones very similar, will once again be used by a significant part of the electorate on Election Day in 2012. According to Sean Flaherty, a policy analyst for VerifiedVoting.org, a nonpartisan e-voting watchdog group, “About one-third of registered voters live where the only way to vote on Election Day is to use a DRE.”
Almost all voters in states like Georgia, Maryland, Utah and Nevada, and the majority of voters in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas, will vote on DREs on Election Day in 2012, says Flaherty. Voters in major municipalities such as Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and Pittsburgh will also line up in next year’s election to use DREs of the type hacked by the Argonne National Lab.
Voting machine companies and election officials have long sought to protect source code and the memory cards that store ballot programming and election results for each machine as a way to guard against potential outside manipulation of election results. But critics like California Secretary of State Debra Bowen have pointed out that attempts at “security by obscurity” largely ignore the most immediate threat, which comes from election insiders who have regular access to the e-voting systems, as well as those who may gain physical access to machines that were not designed with security safeguards in mind.
“This is a fundamentally very powerful attack and we believe that voting officials should become aware of this and stop focusing strictly on cyber [attacks],” says Vulnerability Assessment Team member John Warner. “There’s a very large physical protection component of the voting machine that needs to be addressed.”