Electronic voting machines are vulnerable to hackers

Credit: Yue Yin/ Credit: Yue Yin/

In April, Donald Trump suggested that the election might be rigged in favor of his opponent — Hillary Clinton. Surroundng this scare were reports of Russians hacking, albeit unsuccessfully, into Arizona and Illinois’ voter registration systems. While most of these claims are just hearsay, it is important to consider the security of the data of the voting process especially now, that we are moving to electronic systems.

Most of the problems surrounding electronic voting machines are the problems surrounding any electronic machine such as password-guessing, equipment malfunction, software errors and machine tampering to name a few. Current voting system machines use Windows XP or older, for which Microsoft hasn’t released a security patch availible to the public since early 2014. Not only is this a usability issue, this is also a security problem. Hackers with malicious intent can easily break into an outdated system and tamper with the data, and hence the votes.

Also, machines that are connected using a Wi-Fi network could be accessed without authorization by tapping into the communication channel. This method is quite similar to riding on public Wi-Fi to hack the computers connected to it. Another method, as mentioned in a report by CNN Money, is to acquire the voter access card that some machines use to identify the voter and tamper with that. In a demonstration by Symantec to CNN Money, a small, portable machine was used to hack into and physically reprogram the card, to allow it to cast multiple votes or votes of only one kind.

Besides tampering with votes, malicious hackers can influence the election process by deleting, changing or adding voter records, cyber bullying employees setting up the election and modifying data on campaign websites.

Furthermore, the lack of recounts that are actually meaningful and can reassure the public of the counting process the way recounting paper ballots does, in the case of doubts is also a concern while making a switch to electronic voting machines. Thus, though switching to electronic voting machines is a change for the best, it brings its own set of problems, which is why it is important to pass safety regulations and place electronic voting machines in the category of critical infrastructure that includes banks, power grids, hospitals etc. New policies that enforce strict security parameters will help reinstate public faith in the election system.