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States Fighting Losing Battle Against Federalization of Elections
Despite Their Desperate Letter, Homeland Security Moving Forward Against Hacking
Despite this, Homeland Security Secretary Jeb Johnson is considering adding election systems around the country as a "critical infrastructure"
Although the National Association of Secretaries of State tries to assure Congress that states "have their own fail-safes and contingency solutions that would make it highly difficult to leverage them for changing outcomes," recent events and the opinions of many respected organizations suggest this is not true, says Professor John Banzhaf.
Just weeks after the release of a report showing how easy it would be for Russians - or even high school nerds - to hack a presidential election, two other professors have just proven it, notes Banzhaf.
Professor Alex Halderman was able to infiltrate a voting system from 500 miles away, and, in another demonstration, manipulate voting results with only a screwdriver and some memory chips.
Princeton professor Andrew Appel was able to hack an election machine in only 7 minutes.
There is a "perfect storm" - an unusual combination of at least 5 factors drastically heightening risk - heading towards our coming elections, perhaps even the presidential election, says Banzhaf.
First, one of the scariest revelations of the FBI report on the recent hacking of election systems in two states shows that the hackers did not require much sophistication or secret hacker knowhow. On the contrary, notes Banzhaf, the intruders used hacking tools widely available and easily obtained from the Internet.
The second element of the perfect storm into which our presidential election may be heading is that we use the Electoral College rather than have a direct election for the president. That's important, he explains, because, under our Electoral College system, any rigging or hacking which resulted in a change in even a very small number of votes, and perhaps even only a small number of votes in one individual state, could change the outcome of the presidential election, something very unlikely to occur were there to be a direct nationwide presidential election.
He reminds us of how the 2000 presidential election was decided by fewer than 1000 votes out of almost 6 million cast in Florida; so a hack of 600 votes could have resulted in a different president.
A third element of the perfect storm facing the presidential election, and well as many state and local ones, is the increased use of electronic voting machines (especially where they leave no paper trail).
While some electronic voting machines do generate paper records so that some type of audit trail is available if hacking is suspected, too many do not. This can create what Wired's Brian Barrett terms a "technological train wreck" because, if some one tampered with the machine's software, there would be no way to prove it by comparing real votes with machine tallies.
A fourth factor making the perfect storm an even greater threat is that more and more of the computers and data processing devices used in the election process are connected to the Internet.
A fifth on-line vulnerability is that some states permit residents to cast their votes from home over the Internet. Thus, in addition to sending in fraudulent votes from a hacker's computer, scammers might be able to trick voters into sending in their votes for a different candidate, or to providing scammers with the necessary information to send in a phony vote – just as scammers now get their victims to provide credit card numbers and other vital information, or even to have their computers serve as "slave" computers.
It was said in the Godfather movie that "The lawyer with a briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun." Today what's even more scary is that a teenage hacker with easily available malware may be able to steal more votes than any corrupt mayor or governor.
CNN reluctantly reports that "we've officially entered the era of the hackable [presidential]
Money magazine says we've officially entered the era of the hackable election. Wired claims that the move toward electric voting machines turned out to be a "technological train wreck." And ABC TV News featured a piece entitled "Yes, It's Possible to Hack the Election."
Ironically, some of the biggest risks could be eliminated by taking a few simple steps, says Banzhaf. Using only election machines which create an audit trail, disconnecting election machines and related computers from the Internet, eliminating voting from home over the Internet, insisting that all voting systems be maintained with up-do-date firewalls and malware detection programs manned by experts, etc. would be important steps which could make a big difference, he says.
A few bytes of prevention may be more important than megabytes of attempted cure, says former hacker, well-known mathematician, and public interest law professor John Banzhaf.