Security vendor demonstrates hack of US e-voting machine

Other election security experts suggest the hack is nothing new

A hacker armed with a US$25 PCMCIA card can, within a few minutes, change the vote totals on an aging electronic voting machine that is now in limited use in 13 U.S. states, a cybersecurity vendor has demonstrated.

The hack by security vendor Cylance, which released a video of it Friday, caught the attention of noted National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, but other critics of e-voting security dismissed the vulnerability as nothing new.

The Cylance hack demonstrated a theoretical vulnerability described in research going back a decade, the company noted.

The hack is "not surprising," Pamela Smith, president of elections security advocacy group Verified Voting, said by email. "The timing of the release is a little odd."

Hackers, with U.S. intelligence agencies pointing to the Russian government, have been attempting to raise doubts about the validity of this week's U.S. election through the publication of Democratic Party emails and documents. At the same time, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been warning supporters, with no concrete proof, that the election may be "rigged" against him.

The Cylance demonstration was "not new and badly timed," said Joe Kiniry, a security researcher and CEO at Free and Fair, an election technology developer. "This kind of attack has been demonstrated on almost all of the widely deployed machines used today."

Cylance defended the video, saying it is a timely reminder of the security problems with e-voting machines. The company's research on the machine "came to fruition" recently, and Cylance also wanted to remind poll workers that they need to be vigilant during Tuesday's election, said Ryan Smith, the company's vice president of research.

Releasing the video just before the U.S. election strikes at the issue while people are paying attention, he added. The vulnerabilities in e-voting machines have been discussed for years, "and we still haven't done anything about it," he said.

Dominion Voting Systems, the vendor of the voting machine, did not immediately respond to a request for comments on the Cylance hack.

The Sequoia AVC Edge Mk1 e-voting machine targeted by Cylance is used by some voting precincts in potential presidential swing states Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, and Wisconsin. The machine is used statewide in Nevada and used widely in Wisconsin, but both states have post-election audit procedures in place, Pamela Smith said.

In other states, including Florida and Colorado, the machines are used only in a handful of locations for voters with special accessibility requirements. Pennslyvania uses the machine in just one county, she said.

In the Cylance hack, a PCMCIA card, programmed with the hacker's desired vote totals, can be inserted into a slot on the Sequoia AVC machine. The hacker can then change the vote totals, and even the candidates' names, Cylance demonstrated.

Some states have tamper seals on e-voting machines in an effort to discourage on-site hacking, but poll workers may not realize the potential problems if the seal is broken, Ryan Smith said. Cylance's video is intended to show them, he said.

Still, the potential uses of the Cylance hack are limited, said Douglas Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa. The major concern during this election has been hacking from Russians or other overseas hackers, and the Cylance hack depends on physical access to each machine, he noted.

The Cylance hack would be "devastating if the adversary we were concerned about was a local political machine intent on controlling, perhaps, a county," Jones said by email.

Even such a local hack might require a conspiracy involving several people, with the possibility of someone leaking the plans, he added.

"There may be such corrupt political machines, and we ought to phase out these voting machines to prevent their abuse, but it's not the big news story of this election," Jones said. "This hack is irrelevant to concerns about Vladimir Putin trying to control the presidential election."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?