Thursday, January 11, 2007

Electronic Voting Machines... new tests show they can be hacked

Here is part of an editoria by Adam Cohen, an Editorial Board member, who writes about legal issues, politics for the New York Times.

Prof. Edward Felton, a computer science professor at Princeton, conducted a study recently that found that it would not be at all difficult to hack into a Diebold machine that is the most commonly used electronic voting machine in the country.

Professor Felton’s two main findings were:

(1) Malicious software on a voting machine can “steal votes with little if any risk of detection.” It can also “modify all of the records, audit logs and counters kept by the voting machine, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss.”

(2) “Anyone who has physical access to a voting machine, or to a memory card that will later be inserted into a machine, can install” malicious software in as little as one minute.

Prof. Aviel D. Rubin of Johns Hopkins University reached much the same conclusion. In a classroom exercise in 2004, he created a malicious code that was able to change the outcome of an election and then disappear without a trace.

These scenarios of intentional vote theft are the most alarming, but there is a lot that can go wrong simply by accident or with poor handling of the machines.

Voters using electronic machines have often reported that when they tried to cast a ballot, the machine “flipped” their votes from the candidate they selected to an opponent. In last November’s elections, reports of “vote flipping” were widespread, and in some cases they were confirmed by election officials. In Broward County, Fla., a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections told The Miami Herald that it is not uncommon for their electronic machines to get out of sync when they are used heavily, and to register votes incorrectly. When voters call the glitches to poll workers’ attention, she said, the machines can be recalibrated on the spot.

November's election brought reports of other problems with electronic voting last November, ranging from software glitches that caused votes to be counted twice to a faulty memory cartridge that caused votes to be added to races in which they were not cast. kept a log of problems reported in the media.

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