Cybersecurity experts have warned that a highly flawed and vulnerable electronic voting system in Alaska could, by itself, swing the entire outcome of the mid-term elections and decide whether Democrats remain in control of the Senate.
A report from The Intercept highlights how easy hackers could intercept and change electronic ballots before they are counted by county elections departments in the Last Frontier State.
The report notes that thousands of voters will register electronically to receive a PDF ballot on their computer. The completed PDF will then be returned via “a dedicated secure data center”.
The State describes the system as being “behind a layer of redundant firewalls under constant physical and application monitoring to ensure the security of the system, voter privacy, and election integrity.”
However, the State has also issued a rather worrying disclaimer which notes “when returning the ballot through the secure online voting solution, you are voluntarily waving [sic] your right to a secret ballot and are assuming the risk that a faulty transmission may occur.”
“They admit that they are not taking responsibility for the validity of the system,” says Bruce McConnell, a former leading cybersecurity officer with the Department of Homeland Security.
“They’re saying, ‘Your vote may be counted correctly, incorrectly, or may not be counted at all, and we are not taking any responsibility for that.’ That kind of disclaimer would be unacceptable if you saw it on the wall of a polling place.” McConnell told The Intercept.
Cybersecurity experts also say that the system being used by Alaska, which was created by a Spanish-based company called Scytl, could potentially allow hackers anywhere in the world to get access.
Votes could potentially be altered by Malware already installed on voters’ PCs, according to cybercrime analysts. This could facilitate the intercept and altering of electronic votes as they are sent to the elections department. Severs are also open to hacking, and the experts say this could all be achieved without anyone knowing about it.
The Intercept report notes that international cybersecurity firm Galois took just one day to work out how to remotely alter what were considered to be un-editable PDFs in the Scytl system.
“It’s a scary threat because the way we’ve done it, no one will ever know the ballot got changed,” said principal investigator Joseph Kiniry. “The ballot isn’t changed on the voter’s computer. We haven’t done anything to attack the election department’s computers. We just changed the ballot while it goes over the internet.”
“We’re going to have a perfect storm one of these days, and it could very well be this mid-term election,” Kiniry added. “All it takes is a half-dozen members of Anonymous who want to make a point about digital elections to completely embarrass vendors and policy makers. Donald Duck will be elected.”
Scytl has claimed that their system is more secure than a normal paper ballot system, and is protected by “specialized security technology”. However, Bruce McConnell is convinced otherwise, noting that if the claim was true, “wouldn’t they want to sell that technology to every major financial institution in that country rather than local county election officers?”
McConnell is also concerned that the system could be flooded with fake ballots.
The report also notes that similar electronic voting systems in European countries, previously considered to be failsafe, were successfully hacked by researchers, leading to their abandonment.
The reason all of this could decisively swing the election is because the Senate race in Alaska is being closely contested between Democratic incumbent Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. Currently there are just two points separating the candidates.
It isn’t just Alaska that is at risk from election fraud, however, given that approximately half the States in the country allow electronic ballots for overseas voters, including military personnel.
Combined with the deluge of problems concerning electronic voting machines, this provides ample opportunity for any group or individual who is dedicated enough to potentially decide the outcome of the entire election.
Steve Watson is a London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham, and a Bachelor Of Arts Degree in Literature and Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University.