The recent DefCon hacking conference demonstrated why America needs to modernize its voting systems with more technology, not less. Participants exposed vulnerabilities in various pieces of election technology at DefCon’s Voting Machine Hacking Village and, predictably, had no difficulty infiltrating many of the systems. The twist? They were hacking into technology that hadn’t been updated since the early 2000s. Interestingly, the key takeaways from this hack-a-thon closely mirror the recommendations recently put forth to Congress by 100 security experts. They include the need for multiple levels of encryption, post-election audits and secure servers. But it’s important to remember that these findings aren’t new. And my company, Smartmatic, has been using such measures to protect voters for over a decade, so we know the technology exists. The hackers at DefCon highlighted the dramatically archaic state of U.S. voting machines and reminded the public to prioritize securing voting infrastructure for upcoming elections. In a field where the half-life of software can be just a few months, it’s no surprise hackers took down equipment that was over a decade old. The concerning part is that some of this technology is still used in elections today.
Though this hacking contest was conducted in a setting which bears little resemblance to an actual election, and hackers did not have the opportunity to compare the vulnerabilities of a box full of marked paper ballots (considered the alternative to technology), some useful conclusions can be drawn. The findings, though nothing new, represent a clear call for election commissions to modernize voting equipment and bring their systems up to date with the latest technology to protect and fortify it against today’s security threats.
Several security mechanisms can be implemented to safeguard elections: encryption protocols, security codes, digital signatures, asymmetrical keys and many more. Having counted over 3.7 billion votes without a single security breach, companies like Smartmatic know from experience that technology can deliver fraud-free elections.
Although protecting data is paramount, making the electronic voting system transparent is crucial to building trust in the overall election process. This is why robust election audits – enabled by upgraded voting systems – should be regularly conducted before, during and after elections.