Friday, September 24, 2004
From our distinguished colleague Scorpio at Eccentricity comes the news that a Diebold voting machine was successfully hacked by a chimpanzee. Diebold moved swiftly to reassure voters that chimpanzees would be quite unwelcome at most polling places:
In the minute-long video produced by Black Box Voting, Baxter the chimp is shown deleting the audit log that is supposed to keep track of changes in the Diebold central tabulator, the computer and program that keeps track of county vote totals.
Black Box Voting founder Bev Harris said the demonstration shows that the system — which will be used in more than 30 states, including Maryland — is dangerously inadequate when it comes to stopping election fraud.
But a Diebold spokesman insisted that the system is secure despite "incessant" criticism from organizations such as Black Box Voting.
"The fact of the matter is what you saw was a staged production ... analogous to a magic show," said David Bear, the Diebold spokesman.
Even if the system could be hacked, he said, it could only be done by a person with "unfettered access to the system." Bear noted that elections are not just the machines, but also the people who work the elections . . . .
But Black Box Voting on Wednesday demonstrated two quick ways that "an unscrupulous person with no computer skills whatsoever" could sabotage vote totals, according to Associate Director Andy Stephenson.
The entire voting record can be deleted by choosing "reset the election" on a drop-down menu, he said, or a hacker can destroy a tabulator's ability to recognize ballots by un-selecting three checkboxes on a program control panel.
Once those changes are made, a hacker could cover his tracks by deleting the audit log, as Baxter did.
The Diebold central tabulators use a program called "GEMS" that saves vote totals in Microsoft Access, a Windows-based database program.
GEMS requires users to enter a password to access the vote totals, but Harris showed that the totals can also be opened -- and altered -- with Access, without ever running GEMS.
Because Access functions are already built in to the Windows operating system, the totals could be altered even if a computer did not have Access installed on it, said Herbert Thompson, a computer security expert who teaches at the Florida Institute of Technology. He demonstrated how to change vote totals with a six-line program in Microsoft notepad, "a simple text editor" that comes with all copies of Windows.