FILED IN: Politics

Report: 8th grader with ten bucks could hack voting machine

Voting machine security questioned. Photo: Jen R/Flickr via Creative Commons

New tests done by a national laboratory demonstrate how easily electronic voting machines can be hacked.

According to the Vulnerability Assessment Team at the Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, all it would take is an eighth grade education in science and pocket money to engineer a device that could alter voting results, reports Salon.com.

The leader of VAT, Roger Johnston, told the site that hacking attempts on the voting machines by outside sources “are potentially possible on a wide variety of electronic voting machines,” and that his team believes they could demonstrate the vulnerability of “pretty much every electronic voting machine.”

Besides vote tampering, the VAT tackles a number of different security issues, including reverse engineering, tamper and intrusion detection, GPS spoofing and nuclear safeguards.

Vote fraud became a hot button issue after the controversial 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, which after several months was finally decided by “hanging chads” and a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The electronic voter fraud issue came up again in 2004, when the state of California found problems with 15,000 Diebold voting machines that the company had failed to report. As well, a discrepancy between exit polling and election results also led to calls of voter fraud, although a study by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project concluded that no evidence was found that suggested the election was stolen via electronic voting machines.

The swirling speculation, however, has led to a distrust by many of the electronic voting machines, now used by over 25 percent of voters nationwide.

VAT used a Diebold Accuvote machine given to them on loan to study the possibility of fraud, and what they found was that it took pretty low level knowledge to hack the machine, and could be done even without any information about the machine’s source code. They found that “complete control” of the voting machine could be gained by the insertion of a device that cost just over ten dollars to build, and that for an additional fifteen dollars, the hacker could access the voting machine via remote control from up to 2,500 feet away.

Even more troubling, VAT found that the hacking could take place without leaving any sort of trail behind.

VAT member John Warner said, “The really nice thing about this attack, the man-in-the-middle, is that there’s no soldering or destruction of the circuit board of any kind. You can remove this attack and leave no forensic evidence that we’ve been there.”

Johnston said his group’s findings were a “national security issue,” adding, “It should really be handled by the Department of Homeland Security.”