Las Vegas is host to one of the nation’s largest cyber security conferences. This year, the event is inviting attendees to gain hands-on experience hacking voting machines, showing researchers just how easy the process can be.
The DEF CON cybersecurity conference is hosting “Voting Machine Village,” where attendees can attempt to hack numerous systems and help catch any flaws.
The conference acquired 30 machines for hackers to explore. Every voting machine in the village was successfully hacked.
Though voting machines are technologically simple, they are complex for researchers to obtain for independent research. One of the machines hacked used beneath-the-surface software, known as firmware or computer code, designed in 2007. But a number of vulnerabilities in that firmware have developed over the past decade.
Organizers said they hoped the village would raise awareness about election machine security issues within the cybersecurity community.
Furthermore, they hope that the attendees, many of whom are election experts, will pressure states to do more to protect those systems.
However, there is a debate within the cybersecurity community over the extent of the threat in voting machines that haven’t been secured.
Eric Hodge, director of consulting at CyberScout and a consultant for Kentucky’s Board of Elections, said that with proper security processes in place, the threat to large elections is minimal. This is because voting machines are not connected to the internet and systems used to set them up should not provoke hackers.
In addition, voting machines are bought and used county-to-county across the United States, making it difficult to interfere with a national election result.
Although some worry that in national elections, which are likely to be tight races, hackers might target one or two key counties to swing a result. But it’s also believed that the elections most at risk are not on a national scale.
DEF CON’s Voting Machine Village is the first time most researchers there have had access to voting machines. Many maintain hope that there will be increased pressure for changes to be made following the conference.
The tests come on the heels of fears of Russian interference in the US election. The Department of Homeland Security said Russian hackers targeted 21 US states’ election systems in 2016, as well as conducting email hacking and an online propaganda campaign.
The Unites States was one of the first countries to implement electronic voting despite security experts remaining cautious. The use of the digital voting machines varies across the country and as of 2016, e-voting isn’t available in all states.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom remains “old school.” The UK sends all its citizens to the ballot box with a pencil and slip of paper. The UK claims it does this because it fears of cyberattacks could manipulate the election results. Other problems with digital voting systems include the potential for voter fraud and less privacy regarding citizens’ decision.
President Trump launched a voter fraud committee to help crack down on illegal voting. However, most states have either denied the committee access to their voter rolls, claiming privacy concerns.
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