No one ever suspected when relatively new, largely untested voting machines were mandated as the primary way to vote in many states or districts that anything untoward could ever happen to the data. No one predicted the machines would break down, lose votes, lose some voter credentials, survive voting day intact but corrupt the data afterward or have their data monkeyed with by partisans interested in skewing elections their own way using voting machines that often produced no paper or other form of record the voter and local election officials could check for fraud. No one person predicted any of those things. Every single person with any concern about the electoral process and/or knowledge of how fallible those darn smart computers can be to simple manipulation. Every single observer was able to point out some major flaw in the plan except the people committed to foisting them on the rest of us without any system of backups or fact-checking. Just to demonstrate that they were all right, a security testing lab in Illinois showed how the Diebold Accuvote (?!) according to a story today in Salon quoting the testers at the Vulnerability Assessment Team at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.
We already knew the machines could be hacked remotely using viruses that would give hackers easy and automated control over the results. Princeton University ran penetration tests on the machines in 2006, two years after the machines were brought into widespread use as an alternative to the “hanging chad” controversies in the 2000 presidential election. As with most viruses, this one can jump from one machine to another, infecting whole voting bank, according to the Princeton study. There's even a video demonstration. The new method is a man-in-the-middle attack that waits until a voter has confirmed that the machine is displaying all his or her votes correctly, then blanks the screen for a second while the votes are supposedly being written into storage. Actually a homemade bug intercepts the signal, replaces it with one programmed into it or sent via remote control from a short distance away. The bug uses a microprocessor that cost $1.29, an $8 circuit board and an (optional) $15 remote control. “When the voter hist the 'vote now' button to register his vvotes, we can blank the screen and then go back and vote differently and the voter will be unaware this has happened,” Argonne researcher Roger Johnson said on the video as he and fellow researcher Jon Warner demonstrate several ways to take over and replace, or simply alter results using a bug they refer to only as “alien electronics,” to keep the secret technique from everyone but other hackers. Who knew someone could get access to a sophisticated computer system and cause it to do things its owners and administrators preferred it wouldn't? The administration of George W. Bush clearly didn't do enough to secure the systems and the Obama adminstration hasn't taken up the slack. It looks like it will be up to President Sabu and Vice President Topiary to fix the machines so no one else can tamper with them after they fix the election, too.