Home / Be The Change / Government Corruption / Princeton Professor Shows How Easy it Is to Hack an Election in Just 7 Minutes

Princeton Professor Shows How Easy it Is to Hack an Election in Just 7 Minutes

A professor from Princeton University and a graduate student just proved electronic voting machines in the U.S. remain astonishingly vulnerable to hackers — and they did it in under eight minutes.

In fact, Professor Andrew Appel and grad student Alex Halderman took just seven minutes to break into the authentic Sequoia AVC Advantage electronic voting machine Appel purchased for $82 online — one of the oldest models, but still in use Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia, Politico reported.

After Halderman picked the hulking, 250-pound machine’s lock in seven seconds flat, Appel wrested its four ROM chips from a circuit board — an easy feat, considering the chips weren’t soldered in place.

Once freed, Appel could facilely replace the ROM chips with his own version “of modified firmware that could throw off the machine’s results, subtly altering the tally of votes, never to betray a hint to the voter,” Politico’s Ben Wofford explained.

Appel and a team of other so-called cyber-academics have hacked into various models of electronic voting machines in order to prove to the public the equipment is ridiculously bereft of security. Together with Ed Felten, Appel and a group of Princeton students “relentlessly hacked one voting machine after another … reprogramming one popular machine to play Pac-Man; infecting popular models with self-duplicating malware; [and] discovering keys to voting machine locks that could be ordered on eBay.”

Their efforts have gone largely ignored for 15 years.

But now, thanks to the explosion of controversy from revealing documents hacked from the DNC — and as-yet unproven accusations of Russian involvement — Appel and his colleagues’ persistence has finally garnered the attention it deserves.

If primaries were successfully rigged through corporate media collusion and behind-the-scenes coordination between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, voters will certainly wonder what’s in store when they cast ballots using deeply-vulnerable electronic voting machines.

Perhaps that lack of security prompted the Department of Homeland Security to declare electronic voting machines part of U.S. “critical infrastructure” this week — a designation generally reserved for 16 sectors, including transportation systems, dams, and utilities, among other things — deemed “so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

Now that attention has been given to the ease with which a number of popular, still-employed voting machines can be compromised, officials and voters alike have expressed grave concerns about the upcoming election.

“This isn’t a crazy hypothetical anymore,” Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice and veteran of the team of Princeton ‘hackers,’ noted. “Once you bring nation states’ cyber activity into the game?” he hinted of potential Russian connections to the DNC hack and possible implications of foreign meddling in the national election. “These machines, they barely work in a friendly environment.”

Thirty-one prominent security experts with the Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group issued a statement in response to the DNC hack at the end of July, imploring precautions be taken because “[o]ur electoral process could be a target for reckless foreign governments and terrorist groups.”

“Look, we could see 15 years ago that this would be perfectly possible,” Appel told Wofford. “It’s well within the capabilities of a country as sophisticated as Russia.”

He added ominously, “Actually, it’s well within the capabilities of much less well-funded and sophisticated attackers.”

READ MORE:  Land of the Free? Harvard Study Ranks America Worst in the West for Fair Elections

Electronic voting machines hit the U.S. electoral process in full force following the ‘hanging chad’ controversy in the Bush-Gore race in 2000, in which ballots had to be hand-counted. Ludicrous pictures inundated the news, showing elections officials assiduously examining paper ballots to determine if partially-punched choices equated actual votes in the tight race — a scene officials hoped electronic voting machines would avoid repeating.

But those machines presented notorious problems of their own.

As Wofford explained:

“The Princeton group has a simple message: That the machines that Americans use at the polls are less secure than the iPhones they use to navigate their way there. They’ve see the skeletons of code inside electronic voting’s digital closet, and they’ve mastered the equipment’s vulnerabilities perhaps better than anyone (a contention the voting machine companies contest, of course). They insist the elections could be vulnerable at myriad strike points, among them the software that aggregates the precinct vote totals, and the voter registration rolls that are increasingly digitized. But the threat, the cyber experts say, starts with the machines that tally the votes and crucially keep a record of them — or, in some cases, don’t.”

Because this electronic equipment is now horribly outdated — some machines’ manufacturers no longer offer tech support — and considered, in large part, a ‘failed experiment,’ much has been phased out for better options. But not completely — and those better options still can be easily tampered with, according to Appel and his team.

Indeed, the issues with electronic voting methods are too voluminous to recount in a single article, though Wofford does provide a thorough, albeit lengthy, summary here.

As voters prepare to putatively choose the next American president in November, tales of rigged elections — from the primaries to the presidency — continue to top headlines across the country. With the sheer mountain of political funny business already evidenced this year, electronic voting machines don’t offer anywhere near the sound comfort of retribution the voting public craves.

  • IceTrey

    Just put some security tape over the lock.

    • Ed

      I agree very good idea, but can you trust the guy putting the security tape on the door?

      • IceTrey

        Do it in the open. It’s not a secret.

        • Ed

          Point is the system would work perfectly if we could trust the operators.

          • IceTrey

            Someone from the outside could tamper with the machines.

    • nickb

      If the tape is broken intentionally by someone (DNC operative), would all the votes on that machine (presumably Republican) be nullified?

  • JennaTrull

    A lock only keeps an honest man out.

  • Cynthia

    No video?

  • Paper ballots please.

    • Ed

      You still have to trust those who count your Paper Ballot!

      • mountie

        You count the ballots in public like you are supposed to do. Doing it behind closed doors was only instituted so people could cheat.
        The way to fix it is have more voting locations with fewer voters. Use a paper ballot and just put an X in the box for the candidate you choose. When they are counted, do it in public by placing the ballot on an overhead projector so everyone can see and count.
        I know that the voting is rigged. I once signed up to be a pole watcher and made sure I took the last time slot so as to be there during counting. I also placed a write in vote for myself on one of the down ballot races. When the results were recorded, I had no votes. I know it did not affect the results but all votes are supposed to be counted.

        • Laurie

          “I know that the voting is rigged.” Just how dishonest [and how many of them] do you think The United States Of America Citizens Are?

      • thotfl

        In Canada, all federal and provincial votes are by paper only. A rep from each candidate sits at the counting table (after looking into the empty boxes before voting begins). A rep watches all day too. There are many processes to avert every possible kind of multiple and false voting. It is much easier to win by inserting a vote-skewing chip between the voting machine and its hard drive.

        • Ed

          It’s Time Americans Realize If Voting Made Any Difference, They Wouldn’t Let Us Do It!

  • Joel Detrow

    If you’re interested in more reasons why e-voting is a bad idea, Tom Scott on YouTube spoke about it in a video on the Computerphile channel, titled “Why Electronic Voting is a BAD Idea – Computerphile”.

  • Hugh Culliton

    250 lb electronic “voting machines”? WTF? In Canada we’ve been able to run honest an open elections for years with nothing more sophisticated than a golf pencil, a cardboard box and a foil seal. The more complex you make a system, the more prone to monkeyshines and failure it becomes.

    • Alec

      As someone who has voted in both countries, I completely agree.

      Canada does not have near the amount of conversation about this topic as the US, requires ID, and participation is quite easy.

  • Karll

    Yeah, the Feds will spend a billion on research for a new system and get nowhere.
    It’s not even a complicated problem.
    It’s just been made that way by govt incompetence.

  • MDKTT20

    we call that , “Voter Fraud”. and Obama and his people know how to do that better than anyone. remember “ACORN ” ? I would watch this election very close and check every Voters ID and Cards of Reg. and local address at time of voting. “ACORN” just changed their name , but are still doing the same thing they were caught at in 2008 under a different name .

    • Jane Dough

      so they’re still getting scammed by liars?

  • MDKTT20

    Go back to the old way, make everyone who votes be at the Polls in person with the correct ID’s Required by that state. Nuff said.

    • TOM FANTASIA

      That has been brought up many times. The problem is the Democrats are fighting it at every turn. They believe having an ID will prevent minority turnout. What a crock! The minorities have no problem showing ID to get benefits. Besides having an ID to vote is non partisan. There are just as many conservatives that are poor or are a minority

      • Dick Tracy

        Democrats are against fair elections because the only way they can win is to rig the election.

  • RobSa

    Great article. I remember reading many articles like this after the 2004 election. I even remember very late in the election coverage on CNN when Wolf Blitzer, Larry King and two other show hosts suggested that many voters had lied at the exit polls to explain the mismatch.

  • Yeims

    Another source puts the time at 7 SECONDS.

  • AuthorSue

    If we even think there’s a hint of rigging the election, We The People will demand a hand count of original ballots. If the can’t produce them, we will hold the election again, with paper ballots and IDs.

    • frustraated

      You know the commie Dems won’t allow that.

    • Jim

      Problem is, the original ballots are electronic. With electronic counting, a hack can occur. In the name of efficiency, we are open to tinkering with the ballot box. Paper ballots and manual counting is the only way to ensure proper and ethical elections.

    • Alec

      Where are you living? What government is going to support that?

  • TOM FANTASIA

    All Republicans should then vote by paper ballot

    • frustraated

      Just Republicans?

  • TOM FANTASIA

    In this day and age of technology we have. It would be the easiest thing to put your fingerprint on the ballot next to the candidate you voted for. This way the vote would only be counted once. Any duplicates would not be counted. If anyone is dumb enough to vote more than once, that person would be committing voter fraud.

  • TOM FANTASIA

    In this day and age of technology we have. It would be the easiest thing to put your fingerprint on the ballot next to the candidate you voted for. This way the vote would only be counted once. Any duplicates would not be counted. If anyone is dumb enough to vote more than once, that person would be committing voter fraud.

  • TOM FANTASIA

    With technology we have today, it would be the easiest thing to put your fingerprint on the ballot next to the candidate you voted for. This way the vote would only be counted once. Any duplicates would not be counted. If anyone is dumb enough to vote more than once, that person would be committing voter fraud.

  • MajorMajor411

    ONE PERSON = ONE VOTE. The democrats don’t want this, because then they’d have a hard time cheating at the polling stations throughout the U.S. Picture ID that is legitimate is the only way to go….and for those who can’t make it to the polling places….tough luck. If you want to vote that bad…you’ll find a way to get there.

  • Nohwhat

    Department of Homeland Security to declare electronic voting machines part of U.S. “critical infrastructure” this week — a designation generally reserved for 16 sectors, including transportation systems, dams, and utilities, among other things — deemed “so
    vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction
    would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic
    security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

    Does this new designation mean that Obama can call a rig and invalidate the results?????

    • Because we can’t have a trusted election, he has to stay in office until the system is fixed.

      • Nohwhat

        That’s called a RULER. and who decides when it OK, Obama??? What if he never says it’s OK. RULER O

  • Two musts: 1. Go back to paper hand counted ballots 2. Voter ID with a picture !

    • no need for voter ID – never has been evidence of much fraud in that area… paper ballots and public counting – yes.

      • Loring Bruce Loding

        Really! You don’t think people who have no right to vote in this country aren’t voting? How about the people who voted from the graveyard. I don’t understand why people are so afraid of a state voter ID’s with a picture. As I see it, we have to have a picture on our drivers license to exercise the privilege of driving. Why not an ID for the privilege of voting? It seems the people who would be against it, would be the people who want to vote illegality or those who think their candidate would profit from people voting illegally.

        • You have to have a a picture ID to drive, drink, smoke, rent or buy a house, buy certain types of spray paint and glue, cash checks, buy guns, use a credit card in some stores, etc. but if you are a minority it’s discrimination to ask for one to vote. Who are these people who do none of the above but show up to vote?

      • Alec

        How would you know? Since you don’t check ID you don’t know if someone is lying and there is fraud. Plus, the goal is to have zero fraud, not a small amount. You are making a sweeping generalization that is not rooted in solid facts or a sound premise.

        If there a hole in the system you fill it so you never have to worry about that problem.

        You don’t wait for someone to steal something from your car when parked in the driveway before you start locking the doors, you lock the doors so you don’t have that problem.

          • Alec

            Interesting how the authors want to chalk everything up to clerical errors without truly explaining the clerical errors or wanting to address the clerical errors. Many which could be addressed by ID. For example, two different John Smith’s of two very distinct ages (i.e. 25 vs. 70)

            I also find examples such as this where follow-up was done to be disingenuous:

            “1 Of 18 Kansas City cases that reporters followed up, 13 were affirmatively shown to result from clerical errors. We are aware of public sources substantiating only four cases (amounting to six votes within the state), yielding an overall documented fraud rate of 0.0003%”

            Somehow, it is not alarming that four instances results in 6 votes. Additionally, 18 “reported” cases were followed up on. The results should be read across those 18 reported cases for a fraud rate, not across the entire voting population. So either 6/18 or 1/3 of those investigated or 4 /18 or 2/9 of those investigated. You know the old saying: figures never lie…….

            Additionally, you completely ignore the two most important facts:
            1. The goal if for zero fraud of ANY TYPE. Intentional or unintentional.
            2. We have a known hole in the system. It should be fixed as all holes in the system should be fixed.

            None of this, including ID which is required for benefits of any sort in America adds extra burden or cost on the voter. That is a misnomer. You need ID for medical benefits, to drive, to drink, or any other common benefit extended to the American public.

            Again, you must also have a system that looks for fraud to detect fraud. Another glossed over item.

            As a person who immigrated to the USA from Canada and has voted in both systems as a Citizen, the system in the US is a much more loose system. Additionally, the topic of disenfranchised voters rarely if ever comes up in Canada. I only say rarely because in the 30yrs I lived there, I hadn’t heard the term once, but I do leave open the possibility it has been a topic.

    • Laurie

      Go back to paper hand counted ballots – Only ONE State ID with a picture! AND a non-pictured Voter ID. Easier to VET!

  • Build z burger

    You shouldn’t hack voting machines.
    They have already been altered.

  • frustraated

    Hillary IS GOING to cheat, just as Obama did in 2012. Our only hope is an avalanche of voters coming out for trump, and people watching the polls, to prevent the fishy things that happened in 2012. Philadelphia went 120% for Obama in 2012! We personally knew people who voted for Romney in Philadelphia so it’s obvious! Plus you had the black panthers and other groups scaring older people from voting. We are in trouble as a nation. Just watch “Hillary’s America” and “Clinton Cash.” EspECIALLY if you’re BLACK! The dem (now commie) party has used blacks now for generations. It’s pitiful.

  • Howlingmad

    I have actual “Video”, of the man who SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED the “Electronic Voting Systems” used by this country, speaking to a “Congressonial Panel” on how he can FLIP THE VOTE, for whoever he likes, without notice. So a “Close Eye” better be kept, on those PAPER BALLOTS ! . . . You can just “Bet”, the Trump people WILL BE !.

  • Spirit of Christ

    I need a photo Id to write a check, board a plane, drive a vehicle, buy alcohol or tobacco. But to vote no id required. Brainless morons just do not get it.

  • Gary Dalton

    Use trusted exit poll workers. Of duty police, N guard, veterans, military, Homeland security ect ect. get a count even if rough of voter input. These are large numbers but crook numbers will show up in the same places. `Hard to alter machines when in use. .Need to have eyeballs out there

  • Laurie

    When you change your contentad to Family-Friendly Content I will consider sharing this URL.

  • Laurie

    Go back to paper ballots that can be counted by machine but can also be counted in hand counts [to verify the accuracy of the machine in question] – Only ONE State ID with a picture! AND a non-pictured Voter ID. Easier to VET! I do believe Florida is doing it. [At least in my neck of the woods].