Political action committees aren’t the only entities attempting to influence the upcoming U.S. presidential election. Supposedly, Russia wants a say in who should lead the country. At least that’s the opinion you could form after reading the many news stories that allege Russia is behind the recent hacks targeting the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Attack attribution aside (I shared my thoughts on that topic in last month’s blog), these data breaches raise the question of whether attackers could actually impact an election’s outcome. Not to scare you, but hacking the vote is pretty easy. Some possible ways of carrying this out, like hacking electronic voting machines, have been discussed extensively, while others, such as targeting organizations that poll voters, probably haven’t been considered. I’m not trying to frighten people by bringing up these scenarios. As far as I know, none of the methods I’m going to discuss have been used to sway an election. To me, this is an opportunity to present these possible situations to the security community and, by freely talking about them, ensure that voting goes as smoothly as possible on November 8.
Tampering with electronic voting machines is the usual example that’s presented when discussing how hackers could sway an election, and for good reason. Many electronic voting machines use legacy technology that’s no longer supported by the vendor, according to a study from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Many electronic voting machines run Windows XP, which Microsoft stopped issuing security patches for in 2014. Even worse, some machines are running Windows 2000, which Microsoft hasn’t supported since 2010.
Additionally, several states use electronic voting machines that don’t print paper-trail backups of voting results, including presidential swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania. Without a printout, election officials don’t have a way to audit election results and ensure that electronic voting machines properly captured a person’s vote.