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Can US Voting Machines Be Compromised?


By Charles Miller

Last week, I related some of the news coming out of this year’s DEF CON hacker convention, and there is still a bit more to say. Once again, this year the convention featured the Voting Village, through which computer hackers were invited to try compromising the security of voting machines, websites, and other systems related to democratic elections.

The organizers of DEF CON reported some difficulty this year in getting hands-on used voting machines that could be used for hacker demonstrations, because it seems the manufacturers of voting machines are working very hard to keep their shortcomings out of the spotlight.

Manufacturers like Election Systems & Software, Diebold, and Sequoia are all practicing what information technology professionals call “security through obscurity.” By pulling a veil of secrecy over their products, they hope nobody finds out how ridiculously porous and inadequate their security actually is.

In doing this, the manufacturers of voting machines are providing a textbook example of the absolute worst way to approach security. Manufacturers have gone so far as to send letters to people selling used voting machines on eBay, threatening legal action and falsely claiming that selling the machines is illegal. It is absolutely not.

The manufacturers simply do not want the hackers at DEF CON to have access to voting machines they can use to demonstrate to the public how ridiculously easy it is to hack one. This is no wonder, because last year, every single voting machine at DEF CON was hacked. Not a single one had security able to withstand penetration by the hackers. This year, even in the youth category, for participants ages 6–17 attending DEF CON, 35 out of 39 of those young kids successfully hacked into systems on which our democratic elections depend.

Voting machine manufacturers try to get away with saying their software is perfect and has no bugs. They want the voters to believe voting machines are reliable, but all evidence proves that this is a canard.

I stated above that it is completely legal for anyone to sell voting machines.  However, there is one circumstance under which I personally believe this should be made illegal:  it should be illegal for any company that manufacturers voting machines to sell them to any government for counting votes in an election until after that machine has been tested at DEF CON. Only after all the children in the 6–17 year-old age group have tried and failed to hack into that voting machine should the manufacturer be allowed to sell that model for use by the voting public.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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