Computers & Mobile Technology
How to Hack an Election: A Cautionary Tale
Don’t try this at the voting booth.

As I write this on election eve, the presidential race between Obama and Romney is shaping up to be a real nailbiter with squads of lawyers readying their legal pads and briefcases. No one wants a repeat of 2000 and Bush vs. Gore, but the vulnerability of electronic voting machines should be enough to give one pause.

Roger Johnston is head of the Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory. He and his colleagues recently launched security attacks on electronic voting machines to demonstrate how easy it is to steal votes.  Conclusion: It’s really easy. And cheap.

We can do this because most voting machines, as far as I can tell, are not encrypted. It’s just open standard format communication. So it’s pretty easy to figure out information being exchanged. Anyone who does digital electronics–a hobbyist or an electronics fan–could figure this out.

The device we implanted in the touchscreen machine was essentially $10 retail. If you wanted a deluxe version where you can control it remotely from a half a mile away, it’d cost $26 retail. It’s not big bucks. RadioShack would have this stuff. I’ve been to high school science fairs where the kids had more sophisticated microprocessor projects than the ones needed to rig these machines

All that stands between a free and fair election and a stolen one is a teen-age hacker with $26 in electronics? Our founding fathers would not be pleased.  Maybe we should all go back to the butterfly ballot.

[via Popular Science]

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.

View more articles by Stett Holbrook