NYT: Scientists' Tests Hack Into Electronic Voting Machines in California and Elsewhere

From: Dylan Hirsch-Shell <dylanhs_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Sat Jul 28 2007 - 18:24:07 CDT


    *Scientists' Tests Hack Into Electronic Voting Machines in California
and Elsewhere*
    By Christopher Drew
    The New York Times

    Saturday 28 July 2007

    Computer scientists from California universities have hacked into three
electronic voting systems used in California and elsewhere in the nation and
found several ways in which vote totals could potentially be altered,
according to reports released yesterday by the state.

    The reports, the latest to raise questions about electronic voting
machines, came to light on a day when House leaders announced in Washington
that they had reached an agreement on measures to revamp voting systems and
increase their security.

    The House bill would require every state to use paper records that would
let voters verify that their ballots had been correctly cast and that would
be available for recounts.

    The House majority leader, Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of
Maryland, and the original sponsor of the bill, Representative Rush D. Holt,
Democrat of New Jersey, said it would require hundreds of counties with
paperless machines to install backup paper trails by the presidential
election next year while giving most states until 2012 to upgrade their
machines further.

    Critics of the machines said that some of the measures would be just
stopgaps and that the California reports showed that security problems
needed to be addressed more urgently.

    The California reports said the scientists, acting at the state's
request, had hacked into systems from three of the four largest companies in
the business: Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting

    Thousands of their machines in varying setups are in use.

    The reports said the investigators had created situations for each
system "in which these weaknesses could be exploited to affect the correct
recording, reporting and tallying of votes."

    Voting experts said the review could prompt the California secretary of
state, Debra Bowen, to ban the use of some of the machines in the 2008
elections unless extra security precautions were taken and the election
results were closely audited.

    Matthew A. Bishop, a professor of computer science at the University of
California, Davis, who led the team that tried to compromise the machines,
said his group was surprised by how easy it was not only to pick the
physical locks on the machines, but also to break through the software
defenses meant to block intruders.

    Professor Bishop said that all the machines had problems and that one of
the biggest was that the manufacturers appeared to have added the security
measures after the basic systems had been designed.

    By contrast, he said, the best way to create strong defenses is "to
build security in from the design, in Phase 1."

    The reports also said the investigators had found possible problems not
only with computerized touch-screen machines, but also with optical scanning
systems and broader election-management software.

    Professor Bishop and state officials cautioned that the tests had not
taken into account the security precautions that are increasingly found in
many election offices. Limits on access to the voting systems and other
countermeasures could have prevented some intrusions, Professor Bishop and
the officials said.

    Industry executives said that the tests had not been conducted in a
realistic environment and that no machine was known to have been hacked in
an election. The executives said they would present more detailed responses
on Monday at a public hearing.

    Ms. Bowen said yesterday that it was vital for California to have secure
machines for its presidential primary in February. She said she would
announce by next Friday what actions she would take.

    The findings could reverberate in Washington, where the full House still
has to vote on the measure and the Senate plans to take up a similar bill
this year.

    Concerned about security, House and Senate Democratic leaders said they
wanted to require a shift to paper ballots and other backup records to
increase confidence that votes would be accurately counted.

    State and local officials have argued that it is too late to make many
of the changes without creating chaos next year. Advocates for the blind and
other disabled voters say better equipment needs to be developed to enable
them to vote without help from poll workers, as federal law requires.

    In trying to balance all the concerns, Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Holt decided to
delay the most sweeping change, a requirement that every ballot be cast on
an individual durable piece of paper, from next year to 2012.

    To ensure that all machines would have some paper backup, they agreed to
require hundreds of counties in 20 states to add cash-register-style
printers to their touch-screen machines for 2008 and 2010. New York, which
has delayed replacing its lever machines, would have to buy a new system by
November 2008.

    Advocates for the disabled praised the compromise. For many disabled
people to vote independently, the advocates said, the touch-screen machines
need to be modified to include audio files that can read back the completed
ballots, while the ballot-marking devices used with the optical scanning
systems have to be changed to feed ballots automatically.

    Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, a group that
helped broker the deal, said the bill offered hope for an end to
"unaccountable, unverifiable and inaccessible voting."

    Mr. Holt said the measure could "keep the country from going through
another election where Americans doubt the results."

    Critics say the California findings suggest that Congress should press
for a quicker shift from the touch screens to optical scanning, in which
voters mark paper ballots. Advocates of those systems say that the paper
ballots would be less vulnerable to manipulation than the paper trails
generated by the touch-screen computers and that they would hold up better
for manual recounts.

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Received on Tue Jul 31 23:17:07 2007

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