Def Con is a 25 year old hacking convention where the worlds best hackers come together often highlighting security vulnerabilities in technology. This year, Def Con made news by raising awareness of our voting machine insecurities by challenging hackers to hack into the voting machines commonly used in this country for elections. These Def Con hacks took place in the “Voting Village”. I spoke with Voting Village organizer and leading election technology researcher, Harri Hursti, about the results of the experiment and the challenges we face in securing our elections in the future.
AM: Tell me about Def Con and the “Voting Village” and the role you played in the experiment.
HH: I was the co-organizer of the Village along with professor Matt Blaze.
AM: What was the main purpose of this exhibition?
HH: Education. We wanted to let the security community learn more about the machines and the designs. So far, only a very small group of people have been allowed to study and research these machines. As a result there was a lot of misinformation, rumors and false claims, and finding proven facts was difficult. The broader community which has 1st hand experience can help the public and the policy makers to get the facts known and drive better policies and practices to secure the elections.
AM: How many voting machines in total were there used in this experiment?
HH: 10 voting machines and 10 electronic pollbooks
(For my readers that have no idea what an electronic pollbook is, as per wikipedia: an electronic pollbook or e-poll book is either hardware, software or a combination of the two that allows election officials to review and/or maintain voter register information for an election, but does not actually count votes. This software or hardware is used in place of paper-based poll books, which are typically three-ring binders. Often, the functions of an e-pollbook include voter lookup, verification, identification, precinct assignment, ballot assignment, voter history update and other functions such as name change, address change and/or redirecting voters to correct voting location.)
AM: How many different types of voting machines were used at Def Con and how many different types of voting machines are used during an election?
HH: 4 different types of voting machines and 1 e-poll book. According to the best available public information, 52 types of machines were used in November 2016’s general elections. There are quite a few systems which are only used in a single or few counties/cities in USA. The 3 out of 4 different types machines we had in the village are some of the most widely used models of electronic voting machines used in 2016 elections.