"Voting Glitch Said to Be 'Disastrous'"
Inside Bay Area (CA) (05/10/06); Hoffman, Ian
A recently discovered vulnerability in Diebold's touch-screen voting
machines has election officials scrambling to understand and contain the
risk. A hacker with minimal specialized knowledge of Diebold's system and
an off-the-shelf component could load software onto the machine to disable
it or alter vote counts in a matter of minutes. "This one is worse than
any of the others I've seen. It's more fundamental," said Douglas Jones, a
University of Iowa computer scientist. "In the other ones, we've been
arguing about the security of the locks on the front door," he said. "Now
we find there's no back door. This is the kind of thing where if the
states don't get out in front of the hackers, there's a real threat."
Finnish computer expert Harri Hursti discovered the flaw while working with
Black Box Voting in March, and quietly spread word of the glitch to several
prominent computer scientists who advise states on voting machines.
Pennsylvania, California, and Iowa have directed their election officials
to seal the machines with tamper-proof tape until election day, though
California advised its counties that intend to use only Diebold machines in
their upcoming elections that the threat is low, and that tampering would
be easily detected by voters from the paper read-out and by officials once
they recount 1 percent of their precincts' paper ballots. California
Assistant Secretary of State for elections Susan Lapsley downplayed the
risk, arguing that "it assumes access and control for a lengthy period of
time." Scientists disagree, noting that hackers could work out plans ahead
of time, and that it only takes a minute to install the software, a hole
that apparently originated from Diebold's efforts to make it as easy as
possible to update the software inside its systems.
ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee has released a report on Statewide
Databases of Registered Voters. To review, visit