"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Can Anyone Explain Why Diebold ATM's Can Give Paper Receipts, But Their Voting Machines Can't? 

Tell me if you're still feeling good about the state of our democracy after you read this:
Tests on an optical-scan voting system used around the country showed it is vulnerable to hacking that can change the outcome of races without leaving evidence of fraud, a county election supervisor said.

And how does Diebold respond? In the usual way - with vague threats of litigation:
The voting system maker, Diebold Inc., sent a letter in response that questioned the test results and said the test was "a very foolish and irresponsible act" that may violated licensing agreements.

Of course, the county election supervisor at the heart of this story got exactly the response you would expect from his colleagues at the state level (in case you couldn't guess, the state in question here is - wait for! - Florida):
[Leon County election supervisor, Ion] Sancho criticized the Florida Secretary of State's Office, which approves the voting systems used in the state, for not catching the alleged problems.

A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office said any faults Sancho found were between him and Diebold.

"If Ion Sancho has security concerns with his system, he needs to discuss them with Diebold," spokeswoman Jenny Nash said.

And what, exactly, led Sancho to question the Diebold machines' integrity? Just this:
Sancho first clashed with Diebold in May, when he teamed up with a nonprofit election-monitoring group called BlackBoxVoting.org, which has made a crusade of showing that electronic voting machines are subject to fraud. BlackBox hired Herbert Thompson, a computer-science professor and strategist at Security Innovation, which tests software for companies such as Google and Microsoft.

Thompson couldn't hack into the system from the outside. So Sancho gave him access to the central machine that tabulates votes and to the last school election at Leon County High.

Thompson told The Herald he was ''shocked'' at how easy it was to get in, make the loser the winner and leave without a trace. The machine asked for a user name and password, but didn't require it, he said. That meant it had not just a ''front door, but a back door as big as a garage,'' Thompson said.

From there, Thompson said, he typed five lines of computer code -- and switched 5,000 votes from one candidate to another.

''I am positive an eighth grader could do this,'' Thompson said....

Over the past few months, computer expert Harri Hursti tried to manipulate election results with the memory card inserted into each Diebold voting machine. The card records votes during an election, then at the end of the day is taken to a central location where results are totaled.

Hursti figured out how to hack into the memory card by using an agricultural scanning device easily available on the Internet, said BlackBox founder Bev Harris. He learned how to hide votes, make losers out of winners and leave no trace, she said....

Sancho said he tried to discuss the problems with Diebold, but met with resistance. On Monday, he did one final test with Hursti at the Leon County supervisor's office, Hursti hacked the memory card to spit out seven ''yes'' votes on an issue and one ''no'' vote.

Then, six ''no'' votes and two ''yes'' votes were cast into the machine the same way voters would. Those results didn't show up in the final tally -- just the ones hacked into the card.

All that, and we don't even get purple fingers for our trouble.

 

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