Voting machine flaw: threat or not?

An election watchdog group issued a security alert on Thursday claiming Diebold touch-screen voting machines - widely deployed in a number of states to replace traditional paper ballots - are susceptible to hacker attacks that could "incurably compromise" the terminals.

Nonprofit group Black Box Voting, long critical of electronic voting, said in the 12-page evaluation that "there seem to be several backdoors to the system which are unacceptable from a security point of view."

The document said vulnerabilities exist in the three layers of security – the touch pad, memory card and network – that allow the system to be "modified in extremely flexible ways."

The group’s claims prompted election officials in Pennsylvania, California and Iowa to issue directives to local authorities over the potential risks, telling them to take additional steps to secure the machines.

Meanwhile, a Diebold spokesman today downplayed the security concerns. David Bear said Diebold implemented the function that some security experts believe can be manipulated to hack into the machines so election officials could update software on their own systems.

And, he said, as long as proper policies are in place at polling places, no malicious activity should occur, as a successful hacker would need "complete and unfettered" access to a terminal.

"What’s being portrayed as a security issue is quite honestly based on the premise that some evil and nefarious election official is going to be able to introduce something into the voting system that shouldn’t be there," Bear said.

The touch-screen voting machines, pitched as more accessible and accurate than traditional devices, became popular following the 2000 presidential election. Diebold has since deployed some 100,000 units in Ohio, Georgia, California, Mississippi and Maryland, among other states, Bear said.

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