Cyber agency: Voting software vulnerable in some states

ATLANTA — Digital voting machines from a main vendor applied in at the very least 16 states have program vulnerabilities that go away them vulnerable to hacking if unaddressed, the nation’s main cybersecurity agency says in an advisory sent to state election officers.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Company, or CISA, said there is no proof the flaws in the Dominion Voting Systems’ tools have been exploited to change election outcomes. The advisory is dependent on screening by a distinguished computer system scientist and skilled witness in a long-functioning lawsuit that is unrelated to fake allegations of a stolen election pushed by previous President Donald Trump after his 2020 election reduction.

The advisory, acquired by The Linked Press in progress of its expected Friday launch, facts 9 vulnerabilities and implies protecting steps to stop or detect their exploitation. Amid a swirl of misinformation and disinformation about elections, CISA looks to be striving to stroll a line in between not alarming the general public and stressing the need for election officials to get action.

CISA Government Director Brandon Wales stated in a statement that “states’ standard election safety procedures would detect exploitation of these vulnerabilities and in many scenarios would avoid tries fully.” Yet the advisory looks to advise states are not performing more than enough. It urges prompt mitigation actions, together with both continued and enhanced “defensive steps to minimize the danger of exploitation of these vulnerabilities.” Individuals actions require to be utilized forward of every single election, the advisory suggests, and it’s distinct that’s not taking place in all of the states that use the machines.

University of Michigan laptop scientist J. Alex Halderman, who wrote the report on which the advisory is dependent, has very long argued that working with digital technological innovation to report votes is dangerous because computer systems are inherently vulnerable to hacking and as a result involve various safeguards that aren’t uniformly followed. He and quite a few other election protection specialists have insisted that applying hand-marked paper ballots is the most safe strategy of voting and the only alternative that lets for significant post-election audits.

“These vulnerabilities, for the most element, are not types that could be conveniently exploited by someone who walks in off the road, but they are things that we need to worry could be exploited by sophisticated attackers, these kinds of as hostile country states, or by election insiders, and they would have quite significant consequences,” Halderman instructed the AP.

Worries about achievable meddling by election insiders were recently underscored with the indictment of Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters in Colorado, who has come to be a hero to election conspiracy theorists and is running to turn out to be her state’s best election formal. Info from the county’s voting devices appeared on election conspiracy internet sites previous summer time shortly right after Peters appeared at a symposium about the election arranged by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. She was also not long ago barred from overseeing this year’s election in her county.

Just one of the most really serious vulnerabilities could let destructive code to be spread from the election management program to machines all over a jurisdiction, Halderman reported. The vulnerability could be exploited by another person with bodily access or by someone who is capable to remotely infect other techniques that are connected to the world-wide-web if election workers then use USB sticks to carry data from an contaminated procedure into the election management technique.

Numerous other particularly worrisome vulnerabilities could permit an attacker to forge cards utilised in the equipment by professionals, offering the attacker accessibility to a equipment that would enable the software package to be modified, Halderman mentioned.

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

Halderman is an pro witness for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit at first filed in 2017 that qualified the out-of-date voting machines Ga used at the time. The state acquired the Dominion technique in 2019, but the plaintiffs contend that the new program is also insecure. A 25,000-phrase report detailing Halderman’s conclusions was submitted underneath seal in federal courtroom in Atlanta last July.

U.S. District Choose Amy Totenberg, who’s overseeing the circumstance, has expressed concern about releasing the report, stressing about the possible for hacking and the misuse of sensitive election system details. She agreed in February that the report could be shared with CISA, which promised to work with Halderman and Dominion to analyze probable vulnerabilities and then enable jurisdictions that use the machines to examination and utilize any protections.

Halderman agrees that there’s no evidence the vulnerabilities have been exploited in the 2020 election. But that wasn’t his mission, he reported. He was looking for methods Dominion’s Democracy Suite ImageCast X voting technique could be compromised. The touchscreen voting devices can be configured as ballot-marking units that develop a paper ballot or file votes electronically.

In a assertion, Dominion defended the equipment as “accurate and protected.”

Dominion’s units have been unjustifiably maligned by people today pushing the phony narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Incorrect and often outrageous promises by large-profile Trump allies prompted the firm to file defamation lawsuits. State and federal officers have regularly explained there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election — and no proof that Dominion equipment was manipulated to change success.

Halderman mentioned it is an “unfortunate coincidence” that the 1st vulnerabilities in polling put equipment noted to CISA influence Dominion equipment.

“There are systemic complications with the way election devices is developed, analyzed and qualified, and I believe it is far more possible than not that critical complications would be located in tools from other vendors if they have been subjected to the same type of tests,” Halderman stated.

In Georgia, the devices print a paper ballot that consists of a barcode — identified as a QR code — and a human-readable summary list reflecting the voter’s picks, and the votes are tallied by a scanner that reads the barcode.

“When barcodes are employed to tabulate votes, they could be topic to assaults exploiting the mentioned vulnerabilities these kinds of that the barcode is inconsistent with the human-readable portion of the paper ballot,” the advisory claims. To decrease this risk, the advisory endorses, the equipment should be configured, the place possible, to generate “traditional, comprehensive-face ballots, rather than summary ballots with QR codes.”

The affected machines are utilised by at minimum some voters in at least 16 states, and in most of those people places they are utilized only for people who cannot bodily fill out a paper ballot by hand, according to a voting equipment tracker taken care of by watchdog Verified Voting. But in some locations, together with all of Georgia, almost all in-particular person voting is on the affected equipment.

Georgia Deputy Secretary of Point out Gabriel Sterling explained the CISA advisory and a independent report commissioned by Dominion recognize that “existing procedural safeguards make it really unlikely” that a undesirable actor could exploit the vulnerabilities determined by Halderman. He termed Halderman’s claims “exaggerated.”

Dominion has informed CISA that the vulnerabilities have been tackled in subsequent computer software versions, and the advisory suggests election officials need to contact the firm to identify which updates are desired. Halderman analyzed equipment employed in Ga, and he mentioned it’s not distinct irrespective of whether machines running other variations of the software share the similar vulnerabilities.

Halderman reported that as far as he is aware of, “no a single but Dominion has experienced the option to exam their asserted fixes.”

To prevent or detect the exploitation of these vulnerabilities, the advisory’s suggestions contain guaranteeing voting devices are protected and guarded at all periods conducting arduous pre- and put up-election tests on the equipment as perfectly as submit-election audits and encouraging voters to verify the human-readable part on printed ballots.


This story has been corrected to reflect that Tina Peters has been barred from overseeing this year’s election in her county, not from working for secretary of point out.

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