Hackers Threaten Voting Systems, Electoral Process

As the 2012 presidential campaign swings into full gear, there are concerns that hackers may target voting systems and Websites as a form of political protest.

An apparent threat to hack into voting systems and disrupt the vote has the Iowa Republican Party on edge, according to the Associated Press.

The state's Republican Party is boosting the security of the computer systems it will be using Jan. 3 for the first caucus in the 2012 presidential campaign, AP reported Dec. 19. Party officials were acting in response to a video posted on YouTube calling on Anonymous supporters to "peacefully shut down the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses" to protest the corrupt political system that favors corporations.

Investigators don't know yet whether the threat is authentic and have not yet confirmed whether the Anonymous hacktivist collective is really planning any protests to prevent the vote. As a loose collective of like-minded hackers, Anonymous doesn't have an official hierarchy or structure, making it very easy for a single person, or a select few, to claim an attack without most of the group's participation or knowledge.

"With the eyes of the media on the state, the last thing we want to do is have a situation where there is trouble with the reporting system," Wes Enos, a member of the Iowa GOP's central committee, told AP.

Attackers may target the database used to gather votes and crash the Website that would publicize the results, AP reported. The party recently authorized additional security measures aimed at preventing attackers from delaying publication of the caucus results. Some areas in Iowa may use paper ballots instead of just a show of hands so that the results can be reconstructed if there are any problems.

The early caucuses and primaries are critical to the presidential campaign, with many candidates tweaking their campaign strategy based on their performance.

Security experts have long worried about the security of the voting machines and the infrastructure supporting elections. Researchers at the Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois hacked a Diebold Accuvote touch-screen voting system in September and managed to change voting results without leaving any trace of the attack. The researchers said their attack relied on inserting "alien electronics," or a credit-card-sized device that cost about $10, inside the machine to give attackers remote access to the system.