Virginia election officials have decertified an electronic voting system after determining that it was possible for even unskilled people to surreptitiously hack into it and tamper with vote counts. The AVS WINVote, made by Advanced Voting Solutions, passed necessary voting systems standards and has been used in Virginia and, until recently, in Pennsylvania and Mississippi. It used the easy-to-crack passwords of “admin,” “abcde,” and “shoup” to lock down its Windows administrator account, Wi-Fi network, and voting results database respectively, according to a scathing security review published Tuesday by the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. The agency conducted the audit after one Virginia precinct reported that some of the devices displayed errors that interfered with vote counting during last November’s elections.
The weak passwords—which are hard-coded and can’t be changed—were only one item on a long list of critical defects uncovered by the review. The Wi-Fi network the machines use is encrypted with wired equivalent privacy, an algorithm so weak that it takes as little as 10 minutes for attackers to break a network’s encryption key. The shortcomings of WEP have been so well-known that it was banished in 2004 by the IEEE, the world’s largest association of technical professionals. What’s more, the WINVote runs a version of Windows XP Embedded that hasn’t received a security patch since 2004, making it vulnerable to scores of known exploits that completely hijack the underlying machine. Making matters worse, the machine uses no firewall and exposes several important Internet ports.
“Because the WINVote devices use insecure security protocols, weak passwords, and unpatched software, the WINVote devices operate with a high level of risk,” researchers with the Virginia Information Technologies Agency wrote in Tuesday’s report. “The security testing by VITA proved that the vulnerabilities on the WINVote devices can allow a malicious party to compromise the confidentiality and integrity of Voting data.”