Cyber agency: Voting software vulnerable in some states

Maria J. Smith

ATLANTA (AP) — Electronic voting devices from a top vendor used in at the very least 16 states have computer software vulnerabilities that leave them prone to hacking if unaddressed, the nation’s main cybersecurity agency claims in an advisory despatched to condition election officers.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, or CISA, stated there is no proof the flaws in the Dominion Voting Systems’ gear have been exploited to alter election success. The advisory is centered on tests by a notable computer system scientist and skilled witness in a very long-working lawsuit that is unrelated to untrue allegations of a stolen election pushed by former President Donald Trump after his 2020 election decline.

The advisory, attained by The Linked Press in progress of its predicted Friday release, information nine vulnerabilities and suggests protective measures to prevent or detect their exploitation. Amid a swirl of misinformation and disinformation about elections, CISA would seem to be attempting to stroll a line amongst not alarming the general public and stressing the have to have for election officers to get motion.

CISA Government Director Brandon Wales explained in a statement that “states’ normal election safety techniques would detect exploitation of these vulnerabilities and in a lot of conditions would stop attempts totally.” But the advisory looks to advise states aren’t carrying out more than enough. It urges prompt mitigation steps, like the two continued and increased “defensive actions to minimize the threat of exploitation of these vulnerabilities.” Those people steps need to have to be applied forward of just about every election, the advisory states, and it is distinct that’s not taking place in all of the states that use the equipment.

College of Michigan computer system scientist J. Alex Halderman, who wrote the report on which the advisory is primarily based, has extensive argued that applying electronic know-how to history votes is unsafe because computers are inherently susceptible to hacking and consequently need multiple safeguards that are not uniformly adopted. He and quite a few other election safety industry experts have insisted that utilizing hand-marked paper ballots is the most secure strategy of voting and the only alternative that allows for significant submit-election audits.

“These vulnerabilities, for the most part, are not types that could be effortlessly exploited by a person who walks in off the street, but they are matters that we must fret could be exploited by complex attackers, this sort of as hostile nation states, or by election insiders, and they would have quite significant effects,” Halderman explained to the AP.

Worries about possible meddling by election insiders were being lately underscored with the indictment of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters in Colorado, who has turn out to be a hero to election conspiracy theorists and is functioning to become her state’s leading election formal. Data from the county’s voting equipment appeared on election conspiracy internet sites last summer season shortly following Peters appeared at a symposium about the election organized by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. She was also not too long ago barred from overseeing this year’s election in her county.

One particular of the most serious vulnerabilities could allow for destructive code to be distribute from the election administration program to equipment all through a jurisdiction, Halderman claimed. The vulnerability could be exploited by anyone with physical obtain or by another person who is capable to remotely infect other techniques that are related to the world-wide-web if election employees then use USB sticks to deliver details from an contaminated procedure into the election management process.

Various other especially worrisome vulnerabilities could permit an attacker to forge playing cards made use of in the devices by specialists, giving the attacker access to a equipment that would enable the software to be modified, Halderman explained.

“Attackers could then mark ballots inconsistently with voters’ intent, change recorded votes or even recognize voters’ mystery ballots,” Halderman reported.

Halderman is an expert witness for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit initially filed in 2017 that targeted the out-of-date voting machines Georgia employed at the time. The point out acquired the Dominion method in 2019, but the plaintiffs contend that the new technique is also insecure. A 25,000-term report detailing Halderman’s findings was submitted underneath seal in federal court docket in Atlanta final July.

U.S. District Decide Amy Totenberg, who’s overseeing the scenario, has expressed worry about releasing the report, worrying about the possible for hacking and the misuse of sensitive election system data. She agreed in February that the report could be shared with CISA, which promised to operate with Halderman and Dominion to assess prospective vulnerabilities and then help jurisdictions that use the equipment to examination and apply any protections.

Halderman agrees that there’s no proof the vulnerabilities ended up exploited in the 2020 election. But that wasn’t his mission, he reported. He was wanting for strategies Dominion’s Democracy Suite ImageCast X voting process could be compromised. The touchscreen voting machines can be configured as ballot-marking products that make a paper ballot or file votes electronically.

In a statement, Dominion defended the devices as “accurate and protected.”

Dominion’s units have been unjustifiably maligned by people today pushing the bogus narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Incorrect and at times outrageous promises by large-profile Trump allies prompted the enterprise to file defamation lawsuits. Condition and federal officials have repeatedly claimed there’s no proof of prevalent fraud in the 2020 election — and no proof that Dominion gear was manipulated to change outcomes.

Halderman reported it is an “unfortunate coincidence” that the initially vulnerabilities in polling place equipment documented to CISA influence Dominion machines.

“There are systemic difficulties with the way election gear is designed, analyzed and certified, and I believe it is extra most likely than not that critical problems would be observed in devices from other sellers if they have been subjected to the very same type of tests,” Halderman stated.

In Ga, the equipment print a paper ballot that includes a barcode — recognized as a QR code — and a human-readable summary listing reflecting the voter’s picks, and the votes are tallied by a scanner that reads the barcode.

“When barcodes are used to tabulate votes, they might be matter to assaults exploiting the listed vulnerabilities these kinds of that the barcode is inconsistent with the human-readable portion of the paper ballot,” the advisory states. To minimize this possibility, the advisory recommends, the machines should be configured, the place feasible, to develop “traditional, entire-facial area ballots, instead than summary ballots with QR codes.”

The affected equipment are employed by at least some voters in at minimum 16 states, and in most of those people spots they are applied only for people today who just cannot bodily fill out a paper ballot by hand, in accordance to a voting tools tracker managed by watchdog Confirmed Voting. But in some locations, like all of Ga, practically all in-person voting is on the affected equipment.

Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling stated the CISA advisory and a different report commissioned by Dominion acknowledge that “existing procedural safeguards make it particularly unlikely” that a poor actor could exploit the vulnerabilities recognized by Halderman. He identified as Halderman’s claims “exaggerated.”

Dominion has informed CISA that the vulnerabilities have been tackled in subsequent software program versions, and the advisory states election officials must speak to the organization to figure out which updates are required. Halderman analyzed devices utilised in Georgia, and he said it’s not apparent no matter if equipment running other variations of the program share the very same vulnerabilities.

Halderman claimed that as much as he understands, “no one particular but Dominion has had the prospect to test their asserted fixes.”

To avert or detect the exploitation of these vulnerabilities, the advisory’s suggestions include things like guaranteeing voting equipment are safe and protected at all times conducting arduous pre- and post-election tests on the equipment as perfectly as post-election audits and encouraging voters to confirm the human-readable part on printed ballots.


This story has been corrected to replicate that Tina Peters has been barred from overseeing this year’s election in her county, not from jogging for secretary of condition.

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