“Friendly hackers” were given a very clear directive during this year’s Def Con Voting Village, part of the international hacker conference. And they followed through, much to the dismay of visiting U.S. Congresspeople.
Their task was to crack open some test voting equipment to see just how secure the electronic poll books and ballot printers are.
As the Washington Post reports, these hackers were armed with lock picking kits and Ethernet cables to expose weaknesses in the machines which could be exploited harmfully.
A US Senator is dumbfounded
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) watched as an address given by Harri Hursti, founder of Nordic Innovation Labs, described how most of the machines present that day are still used in elections, despite their noted vulnerabilities.
The Washington Post reports that this year’s Def Con Voting Village featured much talk of the need for more auditing of election results and more transparency from voting machine manufacturers.
“Election officials across the country as we speak are buying election systems that will be out of date the moment they open the box,” Wyden said in the Voting Village’s keynote speech. “It’s the election security equivalent of putting our military out there to go up against superpowers with a peashooter.” — Washington Post report.
Congressional Democrats have two bills which would make paper backups of voting machines mandatory, along with post-election audits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has blocked votes on those, though, claiming it is the responsibility of individual states.
Nyan Cat on a voting machine?
At this year’s Def Con Voting Village, hackers were able to fully exploit the weaknesses of the out-of-date machines.
According to the Washington Post, they played the first-person shooter game “Doom” one one and left Japanese video meme “Nyan Cat” playing on another.
The event has faced criticism from voting equipment manufacturers before, with organizations like the National Association of Secretaries of State calling it “unrealistic” in the face of actual voting day security conditions.
But Hursti said this is just the manufacturers trying to put a halt on extensive research into their products. Furthermore, he says it is impossible to rectify the security concerns before the first primary votes are cast in the 2020 elections.