An Incredibly Insecure Voting Machine
The weak passwords—which are hard-coded and can’t be changed—were only one item on a long list of critical defects uncovered by the review. The Wi-Fi network the machines use is encrypted with wired equivalent privacy, an algorithm so weak that it takes as little as 10 minutes for attackers to break a network’s encryption key. The shortcomings of WEP have been so well-known that it was banished in 2004 by the IEEE, the world’s largest association of technical professionals. What’s more, the WINVote runs a version of Windows XP Embedded that hasn’t received a security patch since 2004, making it vulnerable to scores of known exploits that completely hijack the underlying machine. Making matters worse, the machine uses no firewall and exposes several important Internet ports.
It’s the AVS WinVote touchscreen Direct Recording Electronic (DRE). The Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) investigated the machine, and found that you could hack this machine from across the street with a smart phone:
So how would someone use these vulnerabilities to change an election?
- Take your laptop to a polling place, and sit outside in the parking lot.
- Use a free sniffer to capture the traffic, and use that to figure out the WEP password (which VITA did for us).
- Connect to the voting machine over WiFi.
- If asked for a password, the administrator password is “admin” (VITA provided that).
- Download the Microsoft Access database using Windows Explorer.
- Use a free tool to extract the hardwired key (“shoup”), which VITA also did for us.
- Use Microsoft Access to add, delete, or change any of the votes in the database.
- Upload the modified copy of the Microsoft Access database back to the voting machine.
- Wait for the election results to be published.
Note that none of the above steps, with the possible exception of figuring out the WEP password, require any technical expertise. In fact, they’re pretty much things that the average office worker does on a daily basis.