Monday, May 17, 2004

Electronic Voting Vulnerable To Hacking, May 15, 2004

On Wednesday, the California Senate Elections Committee hold a hearing to investigate the e-voting problems in Orange County, CA with the county's new electronic voting system from Hart Intercivic.

Here's a story from Harris County, Texas, that also uses the Hart eSlate machines, that discusses concerns from computer scientist Dan Wallach that the eSlate system could be hacked. The story also features a video.


Is Harris County gambling with your vote? Are electronic voting machines used here and across the county an open invitation to election fraud?

According to Rice University professor and often-quoted critic of electronic voting Dan Wallach, e-voting leaves too much to chance.

"Elections could be stolen," Wallach said. "The question is not, 'Can I hack the eSlate machine?' The question is, 'How hard is it to hack?.'"

On the other side of the issue is Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman. The chief election official says electronic voting machines are even more secure than the older paper-ballot system.

"I'm not interested in a lot of hypothetical theory that the academics are working with," Kaufman said. "Someone is not going to meddle with the process without there being readily available evidence of it."

However, Wallach says that is just not true and that electronic machines easily be hacked without leaving any evidence.

To prove his point, Wallach put his computer science students to work setting up a mock electronic voting system -- one that mimics the eSlate system used in Harris County. One group of students was assigned to hack and corrupt the system; the other group was assigned to catch them.

During the class, the hackers successfully tampered with the machines without leaving a trace 50 percent of the time.

" I actually thought most people would find the hacks. When I saw they only found four of the eight, that was really scary," Rice University graduate student Anwis Das said.

In class, each undetected hack could have changed the outcome of the mock election, according to Wallach.

"In the systems being used here in Harris County and elsewhere in the United States, there's no reason that they wouldn't be vulnerable to the same problems," Wallach said.

Beverly Kaufman says there is no way an outsider can tap into the system electronically and says no one inside would do it if they could.

"If something unusual were to happen with my voting system for an election, I think the first place I would ask the district attorney to look are those people that keep predicting dire circumstances," Kaufman said. " We don't have a desire or the ability to go in and change the logic that is built into these systems."

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