Thursday, September 29, 2011

Salon: hack a Diebold voting machine: $26 via remote control, cheaper in volume

Time to go back to paper ballots.
A Salon exclusive: Diebold voting machines can be hacked by remote control. (h/t ProPublica)
"Computer science and security experts at the Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois...say the newly developed hack could change voting results while leaving absolutely no trace of the manipulation behind."
If you forego using remote control to start&stop the attack, the parts for this "alien hardware" man-in-the-middle attack run just about $10 retail to compromise a single Diebold voting machine, "cheaper if you buy in volume". And it's invisible to outside inspection.

It's not just Diebold and Sequoia machines at risk, those were just the machines the team has had access to. And it's not just voting machines, either - "this has implications for any application where a user uses a touchscreen".

"We believe these man-in-the-middle attacks are potentially possible on a wide variety of electronic voting machines," said Roger Johnston, leader of the assessment team "We think we can do similar things on pretty much every electronic voting machine."
This is a national security issue," says Johnston. "It should really be handled by the Department of Homeland Security."
The same type of DRE systems, or ones very similar, will once again be used by a significant part of the electorate on Election Day in 2012. According to Sean Flaherty, a policy analyst for, a nonpartisan e-voting watchdog group, "About one-third of registered voters live where the only way to vote on Election Day is to use a DRE."

A few notes from watching the video:
"the way tampering seals are typically used is inadequate to detect physical or electronic intrusion"; "anyone with an electronics workbench could put it together"; there's no soldering or destruction of the circuit board, so the alien bits can be removed afterwards & there'll be no forensic evidence that it had been there.

They used a "man (actually, microprocessor) in the middle" attack, inserting their homebuilt circuit board (it "could probably be miniaturized") between the touchscreen UI and the main circuit board; they also demonstrated other avenues of attack, e.g. between the main circuit board & the printer, to control what gets printed.

FYI to the curious - in the video & the Salon article, we're told (& shown) that the intrusion used "alien hardware", but not told specifically what alien hardware was used.

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