Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Can Plainfield's November elections be hacked?

A Sequoia voting machine, similar to those used throughout NJ.

Plainfield's recent experience with ransomware got me to thinking about this year's November election and whether our voting system can be hacked.

There are actually several components of the election system, each with its own vulnerabilities.

The Sequoia voting machines used in New Jersey are subject to hacking -- if they are connected to the Internet. Thankfully, as the result of a lawsuit by a Rutgers professor (see an NJTV story here), they are not connected to a network. That may slow down the tabulation of results, but that's a fair tradeoff considering it means that any hacking would have to be done on a machine-by-machine basis, which does not seem to me to be an efficient way for a hacker or hackers to attack the system.

But manipulating voting results is not the only area that is problematic.

The "front end" of the election system -- the gathering, verifying, storing and distributing of the voter rolls -- is an entirely different matter.

Suppose that the goal of hackers was not to determine an outcome, but to disrupt -- or even prevent -- the casting of ballots in the first place.

When you go to the polling place, the first thing you do is verify that you are a voter registered to vote in that district. That's what those huge ledger-like books, in which you signature must match the one from the previous election, are for.

That information is stored electronically and printed out to make those books.

If the systems are not well designed or secure, hackers could disrupt the voting process by altering, scrambling or deleting individual voting records.

Or, even worse, if there was a successful ransomware attack, the County's entire voter lists would be copied and encrypted and the original files destroyed. Then, a ransom would be demanded for the key to the newly encrypted files.

Under such a scenario, it is possible to imagine that it would be impossible to even conduct an election.

Are you worried yet?

Though authorities are inclined to tell us they have everything under control and not to worry, I am skeptical.

Just something to think about...

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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