Hacking the Vote Not

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2006-11-06 Print this article Print

Likely "> Voting machines of whatever type were stored in warehouses that were locked and usually guarded. The machines themselves had security seals applied, and the seals were checked any time the machines were put into use.

In addition, counters were checked and rechecked, and the machines were checked for proper operation.
So now its 2006. More of the machines are electronic, and the only jurisdiction of any size still using the lever-style mechanical machines is the State of New York.
And suddenly, theres a cry about the fact that you might be able to hack the vote on an electronic machine. In fact, it has been proven that given enough time, computer scientists who had unfettered access to a machine, could eventually find a way to insert bogus votes. NIST to certify voting machine security and standards. Click here to read more. This should not be news. Given enough time, and enough access, any computer ever made can be hacked. But so can any other means of tabulation. Mechanical counters and paper markers can be handled fraudulently as well. There is nothing new here, other than the means of committing fraud. The difference is that the voting machines on the market today use advanced encryption, they arent connected to a network and most of them have a means to create an audit trail. Even if a way were found to jigger a machine, say with a handheld computer, youre talking about a single machine. And even then the security software would report an event that would alert the election staff. Sure, it can be done, but its very difficult to hack the vote quickly or easily, and even harder to do it in large numbers. In short, its no more possible to commit vote fraud than it ever was, and in most cases, its a lot less likely. Given the voter verifiable paper trails on 70 percent of todays electronic machines, its probably almost impossible to actually get away with it. The charges of the anti-electronic voting activists are playing on the lack of understanding by the media, the voting administrators and lawmakers to raise an issue that is, in short, bogus. What they should be doing instead is focusing on an issue thats significantly more likely to be a problem, and thats poll worker recruitment and training. Every person I talked to in researching a companion story to this column said they were worried that there wouldnt be enough properly trained poll workers to meet the needs of the voting public. Instead of chasing imaginary charges of hacking the vote, local officials and others involved in this debate should be spending their time and resources on making sure the people who carry out the voting process know how to operate the machines, know who to call for help, and how to keep them physically secure. Its not going to be hackers who steal the vote in this election. But it could be stolen by ineptitude and disorganization, especially if election workers are focusing on the wrong problem. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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