Test Hackers Crack D.C. Internet Voting System

Online Voting Ends After System Determined to be Too Vulnerable

By Tonya LaFleur
|  Thursday, Oct 14, 2010  |  Updated 3:16 PM EDT
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Test Hackers Crack D.C. Internet Voting System

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For Florida, it was hanging chads. In Washington, D.C. it was nearly electronic ballots.

District election officials avoided a potential international embarrassment with the recent removal of its vulnerable Internet voting system.

A University of Michigan computer science professor and his doctoral students worked to see what flaws that could find with the website -- and it took just 36 hours for Dr. J. Alex Halderman and his team to hack into the server. 

Once inside the system, the team was able to do quite a bit of damage, including changing all the votes already cast and access personal information of all eligible voters. 

They also rigged the system to play the University of Michigan’s fight song every time someone cast an online ballot.

The good news is that the hacking was only a test. No real votes were compromised.

Another potentially scary scenario was also uncovered during the students’ test run: It turns out that real-life hackers from China and Iran had tried -- unsuccessfully -- to break into D.C.’s voting system.

"The danger of Internet voting is that we just don't know how to make a system like this secure, given the limitations of today's technology," said Halderman.

Most people using D.C.’s online voting system have been military servicemembers stationed overseas. They can still download ballots online, but will have to mail them instead of submitting them electronically.

Thirty-three states currently use Internet voting. Some states allow voting by fax.


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