It took computer hackers less than two hours to break into U.S. voting machines at the annual DefCon computer security conference, according to tech news site The Register. DefCon is an annual event that draws hackers from all over the world to Las Vegas to strut their stuff.
The idea behind this effort was “to raise awareness and find out for ourselves what the deal is. I’m tired of reading misinformation about voting system security,” conference founder Jeff Moss noted, according to USA Today.
Some participants physically took machines apart to find and document vulnerabilities. Others gained remote access over Wi-Fi and were able to upload malware to them. DefCon organizers aggregated some 30 voting machines—including those made by Diebold, Sequoia, and WinVote—to make up its first-ever Voter Hacking Village, and turned them over to the pros on Friday to work their magic.
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The wireless hacks are clearly more worrisome because of their stealthy nature. People are apt to notice someone taking a screwdriver to a polling place during an election.
This is the first time that DefCon formally took on the issue of voting machine hacks—a hot topic given that U.S. intelligence agencies have found that Russians used hacking techniques to influence the last U.S. presidential election.
While there is no proof that actual vote count was compromised by the Russian efforts, there hasn’t been much research to see if that could happen. Danish researcher Carsten Schürmann used a 14-year old exploit in Microsoft (msft) Windows XP operating system to gain remote access to one unpatched machine within 90 minutes. That access would enable him to change the vote tally from anywhere, according to CNET.
“Without question, our voting systems are weak and susceptible,” said Jake Braun, CEO of security consulting firm Cambridge Global Advisors, told the Register. “Thanks to the contributions of the hacker community today, we’ve uncovered even more about exactly how.”