It’s been two years since international interference sabotaged the United States’ election security, and still the vulnerability of our voting infrastructure remains a major problem. This past May, during Tennessee’s primary election, the Knox County election website fell prey to a DDoS attack. And just days ago, Texas voters experienced “ominous irregularities” from voting machines. In the lead up to the midterm elections, Radware surveyed Facebook users on the safety of U.S. elections, and the results paint a gloomy picture. The overwhelming majority (93.4 percent) of respondents believe that our election system is vulnerable to targeting and hacking—and they’re correct. What’s more, respondents were unable to suggest long-term tenable solutions when asked how the U.S. can improve its election safety (which is understandable, given the complexity of the issue). It is alarmingly quick and easy to hack into U.S. voting systems; just ask the 11-year-old boy who earlier this year demonstrated how he could hack into a replica of the Florida state election website and change voting results in under 10 minutes.
Why is it so easy? A large part of the problem is a lack of consistency among state election systems in either protocols or equipment. Voting equipment varies from paper ballots, to punch cards to electronic touch screens. Some states manually count votes while others use automation. Because of these many variables, each state has different security flaws and different vulnerability of being hacked.
There are roughly 350,000 voting machines used in the U.S. today, according to Verified Voting. There are two types of machines: direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines, which are digital and allow voters to touch a screen to make their selections, and optical-scan systems. Optical-scan machines allow voters to make their selections on a paper ballot, which gets fed into an optical scanner and can be used later to verify the digital results. The DREs are of particular concern because all models are vulnerable to hacking. And because DREs do not provide a hard copy of the vote, it is difficult to double-check results for signs of manipulation.
Additionally, voting machines need to be programmed with ballot information, which likely happens by direct connection to the Internet. Precinct results are often centrally tabulated by state and local governments over their various local area networks, adding even more points of potential hacking and vote manipulation.