News & Politics

Report: 'Staggering' Number of Security Flaws in U.S. Voting Machines

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If this won’t convince us to bring back paper ballots, I don’t know what will.

Last August at a conference in Las Vegas, a group of hackers were invited to try to penetrate and expose security flaws in several kinds of U.S. voting machines. The organizers of the conference released a 50-page report today detailing the “staggering number” of potential security problems in one machine that’s used in 23 states.

The BBC quotes the report:

“The problems outlined in this report are not simply election administration flaws that need to be fixed for efficiency’s sake, but rather serious risks to our critical infrastructure and thus national security,” the report claims.

More than 30 voting machines and other pieces of equipment were made available to attendees of the conference, including the M650 electronic ballot scanner, which is currently used by 23 US states.

The report says vulnerabilities mean the M650 can be remotely hacked.

A design flaw reported as far back as 2007 was also found in the model tested during the conference.

The organisers of the conference argue that because the unit is designed to process a high volume of ballots, hacking one of the machines could enable an attacker to “flip the electoral college and determine the outcome of a presidential election​”.

The machine’s manufacturer disagrees:

The makers of the M650 system, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), told the Wall Street Journal that because the voting machine uses paper ballots, votes can be audited.

The company also said “the security protections on the M650 are strong enough to make it extraordinarily difficult to hack in a real-world environment”.

In August, four US Senators signed a letter to ES&S, which said they were “disheartened” that the company had chosen to dismiss the hacker’s demonstrations.

ES&S responded, saying forums open to anonymous hackers “may be a green light for foreign intelligence operatives” and should be viewed with caution.

“Over 15 years we have studied numerous election systems and voting machines across the world, and every single one has been found to have severe vulnerabilities,” Harri Hursti, one of the authors of the report, told the BBC. We’ve known of these vulnerabilities for years, so why has so little effort been put into fixing the problem?

The truth is, election security is not taken seriously in this country. Hackable machines, slipshod voter registration procedures, incompetent recordkeeping that allows millions of dead people to remain on the voter rolls, and ridiculous voter ID requirements that make cheating child’s play all put our elections — and our democracy — at risk.

While Republicans are better than Democrats at trying to secure the vote, they aren’t willing to spend the money to put the infrastructure in place to do so. This is a problem, as it seems likely from this demonstration by hackers that a rigged election is more than possible in the near future.