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Thursday, 22 June 2017 06:01

Beyond the Russians, Electronic Voting Machines Are Vulnerable to Any Hackers

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voting22Electronic voting machines are vulnerable to specialized hackers, not just Russians. (Photo: justgrimes)

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Journalists and activists have been sounding the alarm about electronic voting machines and their proprietary software for years. The vulnerability of these machines to hacking has not been front and center for some time -- primarily due to the failure of the corporate media and legislative bodies to take it seriously. That changed, to some extent, with the charges about Russian hacking from US intelligence agencies. However, the current emphasis is on the Russians allegedly attempting to influence the 2016 election, not on the flawed electronic voting machines that make hacking possible.

For example, CNN reported on hearings yesterday in the US Capitol:

Both sides of the Capitol on Wednesday heard from experts about the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, with officials for the first time revealing how many states' election-related systems were targeted by Russian hackers.

But though the government disclosed that 21 states were potentially impacted by the targeting, lawmakers were left frustrated that the public still doesn't have a full picture of what exactly the Russians did during the election and that it's not fully clear what the US will do to protect itself going forward.

On the House side, the intelligence committee heard from former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. On the Senate side, the intelligence committee heard from an array of federal and state officials regarding election infrastructure.

The CNN article also notes:

DHS [Department of Homeland Security] officials repeatedly said they do not believe that an attempt by nation-backed hackers to change votes in a national, state or local election would be able to escape notice.

Brad Friedman, a journalist who has been covering the problems with voting machines for years, is using this moment to draw attention to larger concerns about election integrity. The failure of electronic voting machines to be invulnerable to hacking is the core of the problem.

As Friedman argues,

Ironically enough today, in the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, top intelligence officials from the FBI and DHS testified in regard to concerns about alleged Russian manipulation of the 2016 election. Neither they, nor the elections officials who also testified today, seemed to know much of anything about the actual vulnerability of U.S. voting systems. Or, if they did, they certainly offered a whole lot of demonstrably inaccurate information about whether voting systems are connected to the Internet (they are), whether our decentralized voting and tabulation systems make it impossible to hack a a Presidential election (it doesn't), and whether actual voting results were manipulated in the 2016 President race (they claimed that they weren't, even while the DHS finally admitted they never actually checked a single machine or counted a single ballot to find out!)

On the other hand, one computer scientist and voting machine expert, Dr. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan, also testified today and he actually knows what he's talking about, because he's personally hacked just about every voting system in use in the U.S. today, including 10 years ago when he first hacked the exact same 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting machines used in the state of Georgia during Tuesday's Special Election for U.S. House, the most expensive such election in U.S. History. As he explained in his prepared remarks [PDF] today, 10 years ago, he "was part of the first academic team to conduct a comprehensive security analysis of a DRE [touch-screen] voting machine." It was a Diebold touch-screen machine, the exact same type used in GA yesterday, as obtained from a source of mine and given to his crew at Princeton University at the time.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month, according to CNN, conceded that hackers from Russia may have targeted US voting machines:

Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to suggest Thursday that "patriotic hackers" may have meddled in the US election, but insisted that none of their potential activities were state-backed.

It's the first time the Russian leader has conceded that any election-related hacking attacks may have emanated from his country.

If Russian "patriotic hackers" -- or other indirect or direct agents of the Russian state -- were able to penetrate voting machines (in at least 21 states, according to yesterday's hearings) then the problem is not just with a rival nation-state attempting to influence US elections, it is with the machines, the software and internet connections.

As Friedman writes in his column:

Halderman also ... [states] that machines thought not to be attached to the Internet actually are vulnerable to malware from the Internet, and that our decentralized and disparate system of computerized voting machines and tabulators provides no real safeguards against malicious hackers, whether they are from Russia or France or Cleveland or Atlanta.

The Russian hacking makes for a profitable corporate media narrative -- particularly with tweeter Trump tossing gas on the fire. However, if we are looking to secure our voting system from foul play, shouldn't we also start paying major legislative attention to the electronic voting machines themselves?