Case: Hacking The Diebold Voting Machine One way Congress reacted to the 2000 Election was by…

Case: Hacking The Diebold Voting Machine One way Congress reacted to the 2000 Election was by passing the Help America Vote Act of 2002. That act, among other things, provided funding for states to modernize their voting systems and eliminate punch card and lever systems. One of the more obvious approaches was to consider some form of electronic voting system, and computers were naturally considered one of the better possibilities. There were obvious risks with using computers, particularly in view of the strong motivation of people to subvert the systems. For example, any person or group who wanted to disrupt the democratic process might use hacking in an attempt to prevent the machines from recording votes or to destroy the record of votes already cast. A person or group might attempt to hack the machine to record votes incorrectly to favor a particular candidate. Hence any computerized voting system would necessarily have to have very robust security measures as well as rigorous audit procedures so as to guarantee a correct vote count. Not only must the systems be secure, the voting public needs to believe they are secure in order to have confidence in the process. Those are formidable challenges.

As an example of just how difficult the problem is, consider one of the leading computerized voting machines, the Diebold AccuVote-TS and its successor, the Diebold AccuVote-TSx. Those machines were used in real elections, and by September of 2006 were the most widely used electronic voting machine in the United States. A number of computer scientists had expressed alarm at the rapid proliferation of computerized voting machines, claiming that they were not sufficiently secure. Their concerns were convincingly confirmed by a research group at Princeton University. The Princeton group’s research showed that someone who was alone with the machine for only two or three minutes could install malware on the machines. The following is a paraphrase of their main findings:

1. The installed malware, installed on a single machine, can steal votes without leaving any evidence of the hack. Audit trails would indicate that the tally was entirely correct.

2. Anyone who had physical access to the machine could install the malware in two or three minutes. With a little practice, it could actually be done in less than one minute.

3. While installing the malware, it is equally easy to install a virus on the memory card of the machine. That allows the malware to be transmitted to other machines when the memory cards are used to update the machines and so the malware is likely to infect all of the machines in the voting precinct.

4. In order to prevent the kind of hack used by the Princeton group, Diebold would need to make changes in the hardware and new election procedures would have to be adopted. (Feldman, Halderman, and Felten 2006)

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