How much evidence do we need that these machines are no damn
Well, here's some more. (Please send it out, as it will
not be mentioned by the press.)
And, although I repeat myself (yet one more time), please let me
add that e-vote-counting machines--such as the op-scans
used from coast to coast, and that will soon be used in New York State--are just as easy to manipulate as e-voting
If we keep not paying attention to this problem, just you
wait until the next election, when the Republicans will come a-roarin' back to power,
"re-elected" by the surge of "grass-roots" fury touched off by Obama's "socialism" (or so we'll
all keep hearing endlessly).
From Richard Tamm:
- Advertisement -
One more proof of the vulnerability
of these machines.
My thanks to Dennis Paull of CEPN
(California Election Protection Network) for this one.
Here's the article, but you must go to
-for a great video
explaining what these guys did.
scientists take over electronic voting machine with new programming
technique (w/ Video)
August 10th, 2009
UC San Diego computer science Ph.D.
student Stephen Checkoway clutches a print out demonstrating that his
vote-stealing exploit that relied on return-oriented programming
successfully took control of the reverse engineered voting machine.
Credit: UC San Diego / Daniel Kane
(PhysOrg.com) -- Computer
scientists demonstrated that criminals could hack an electronic voting
machine and steal votes using a malicious programming approach that
had not been invented when the voting machine was designed. The team
of scientists from University of California, San Diego, the University
of Michigan, and Princeton University employed "return-oriented
programming" to force a Sequoia AVC Advantage electronic voting
machine to turn against itself and steal votes.
"Voting machines must remain
secure throughout their entire service lifetime, and this study
demonstrates how a relatively new programming technique can be used to
take control of a voting machine that was designed to resist takeover,
but that did not anticipate this new kind of malicious programming,"
said Hovav Shacham, a professor of computer science at UC San
Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering and an author on the new study
presented on August 10, 2009 at the 2009 Electronic Voting Technology
Workshop / Workshop on Trustworthy Elections (EVT/WOTE 2009), the
premier academic forum for voting security research.
In 2007, Shacham first described
return-oriented programming, which is a powerful systems security
exploit that generates malicious behavior by combining short snippets
of benign code already present in the system.
Computer scientists led by Hovav
Shacham, a UC San Diego professor, hacked an electronic voting machine
and stole votes using a malicious programming approach that had not
been invented when the voting machine was designed. The computer
scientists employed "return-oriented programming" to force a
Sequoia AVC Advantage electronic voting machine to turn against itself
and steal votes. Credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of
The new study demonstrates that
return-oriented programming can be used to execute vote-stealing
computations by taking control of a voting machine designed to prevent
code injection. Shacham and UC San Diego computer science Ph.D.
student Stephen Checkoway collaborated with researchers from Princeton
University and the University of Michigan on this
"With this work, we hope to
encourage further public dialog regarding what voting technologies can
best ensure secure elections and what stop gap measures should be
adopted if less than optimal systems are still in use," said J. Alex
Halderman, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at
the University of Michigan.
The computer scientists had no
access to the machine's source code-or any other proprietary
information-when designing the demonstration attack. By using just
the information that would be available to anyone who bought or stole
a voting machine, the researchers addressed a common criticism made
against voting security researchers: that they enjoy unrealistic
access to the systems they study.
"Based on our understanding of
security and computer technology, it looks like paper-based elections
are the way to go. Probably the best approach would involve fast
optical scanners reading paper ballots. These kinds of paper-based
systems are amenable to statistical audits, which is something the
election security research community is shifting to," said
"You can actually run a modern and
efficient election on paper that does not look like the Florida 2000
Presidential election," said Shacham. "If you are using electronic
voting machines, you need to have a separate paper record at the very
Last year, Shacham, Halderman and
others authored a paper entitled "You Go to Elections with the
Voting System You have: Stop-Gap Mitigations for Deployed Voting
Systems" that was presented at the 2008 Electronic Voting Technology
"This research shows that voting
machines must be secure even against attacks that were not yet
invented when the machines were designed and sold. Preventing
not-yet-discovered attacks requires an extraordinary level of security
engineering, or the use of safeguards such as voter-verified paper
ballots," said Edward Felten, an author on the new study; Director
of the Center for Information Technology Policy; and Professor of
Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton
Demonstrates Voting Machine Vulnerabilities
To take over the voting machine, the
computer scientists found a flaw in its software that could be
exploited with return-oriented programming. But before they could find
a flaw in the software, they had to reverse engineer the machine's
software and its hardware-without the benefit of source
Princeton University computer
scientists affiliated with the Center for Information Technology
Policy began by reverse engineering the hardware of a decommissioned
Sequoia AVC Advantage electronic voting machine, purchased legally
through a government auction. J. Alex Halderman-an electrical
engineering and computer science professor at the University of
Michigan (who recently finished his Ph.D. in computer science at
Princeton) and Ariel Feldman-a Princeton University computer science
Ph.D. student, reverse-engineered the hardware and documented its
It soon became clear to the
researchers that the voting machine had been designed to reject any
injected code that might be used to take over the machine. When they
learned of Shacham's return-oriented programming approach, the UC
San Diego computer scientists were invited to take over the project.
Stephen Checkoway, thecomputer
sciencePh.D. student at
UC San Diego, did the bulk of the reverse engineering of the voting
machine's software. He deciphered the software by reading the
machine's read-only memory.
Simultaneously, Checkoway extended
return-oriented programming to the voting machine's processor
architecture, the Z80. Once Checkoway and Shacham found the flaw in
the voting machine's software-a search which took some time-they
were ready to use return-oriented programming to expose the
machine's vulnerabilities and steal votes.
The computer scientists crafted a
demonstration attack using return-oriented programming that
successfully took control of the reverse engineered software and
hardware and changed vote totals. Next, Shacham and Checkoway flew to
Princeton and proved that their demonstration attack worked on the
actual voting machine, and not just the simulated version that the
computer scientists built.
The computer scientists showed that
an attacker would need just a few minutes of access to the machine the
night before the election in order to take it over and steal votes the
following day. The attacker introduces the demonstration attack into
the machine through a cartridge with maliciously constructed contents
that is inserted into an unused port in the machine. The attacker
navigates the machine's menus to trigger the vulnerability the
researchers found. Now, the malicious software controls the machine.
The attacker can, at this point, remove the cartridge, turn the
machine's power switch to the "off" position, and leave.
Everything appears normal, but the attacker's software is silently
When poll workers enter in the
morning, they normally turn this type of voting machine on. At this
point, the exploit would make the machine appear to turn back on, even
though it was never actually turned off.
"We overwrote the computer's
memory and state so it does what we want it to do, but if you shut off
the machine and reboot from ROM, the exploit is gone and the machine
returns to its original behavior," explained Checkoway.
The computer scientists tested a
machine that is very similar to machines that are used today in New
Jersey and Louisiana. These New Jersey and Louisiana machines may have
corrected the specific vulnerabilities the computer scientists
exploited, but they have the same architectural limitations. The
researchers highlight the possibility that current voting machines
will be vulnerable to return-oriented programming attacks similar to
the attack demonstrated in this study.
"This work shows how difficult it
is to design voting machines that will remain secure over time.
impossible to anticipate what new
kinds of attacks will be discovered in the future," said
J.A. Halderman, E. Rescorla, H.
Shacham, and D. Wagner. "You Go to Elections with the Voting System
You Have: Stop-Gap Mitigations for Deployed Voting Systems." In D.
Dill and T. Kohno, eds., Proceedings of EVT 2008. USENIX/ACCURATE,
E. Buchanan, R. Roemer, H. Shacham,
and S. Savage. "When Good Instructions Go Bad: Generalizing
Return-Oriented Programming to RISC." In P. Syverson and S. Jha,
eds., Proceedings of CCS 2008, pages 27-38. ACM Press, Oct.
Source: University of California -
San Diego (news:web)