E-Voting Machine Easily Reprogrammed To Play Pac-Man

from the wokka-the-vote dept

Tim Lee points us to Alex Halderman and Ariel Feldman’s latest demonstration of the hackability of e-voting machines: they reprogrammed a Sequoia machine that was used in the 2008 elections to play Pac-Man:

The really important point is that they did this in three afternoons (and remember, these machines are often left totally unguarded, in the open at polling places for days before elections) without breaking any of the “tamper-resistant” seals that are supposed to alert anyone to any foul play. As Halderman noted:

We could have reprogrammed it to steal votes, but that’s been done before, and Pac-Man is more fun!

So now my only question is whether or not they get a cease and desist from NAMCO.

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Companies: sequoia

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Comments on “E-Voting Machine Easily Reprogrammed To Play Pac-Man”

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31 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the iconic arcade game, we reprogrammed the AVC Edge to run Pac-Man. It uses MAME to emulate the original hardware. (We own the electronics from a real Pac-Man machine.)

Oh thank goodness, I would hate to think that a university is demonstrating the fraudulent brokenness of our election systems by using a pirated rom. My faith in the rightness of the universe is restored.

This depresses me. These guys are doing work that is crucial to the integrity of our democracy, and they feel the need to profess to being on the up and up with the IP gulag. It’s a small and petty thing, but it just broke my mind today.

Anonymous Coward says:

E-voting security system: The Philips Head screwdriver

“The software can be replaced without breaking any of these seals, simply by removing screws and opening the case.”

Really? Can’t we get someone with more than a 1st graders understanding of how to secure something to work on these things. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at how ridiculous this seems.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: E-voting security system: The Philips Head screwdriver

Pass the current article link to more people, so you will have company in your moment of need.

It is amazing how closed government is (or how badly information is disseminated) that they can pull this off.

Humans have a tendency to trust and as well to avoid digging into things very much at all when they feel they simply won’t understand something well enough.

Humans also have an inertia problem (sometimes manifested as wishful thinking) and a problem of “if I don’t feel the sting immediately, I have not been hurt that much by it”.

I am going to consider writing some local relevant public official about this and asking what public steps they are taking with our current voting system to remove liability from their hands and place it into the public’s hands. I suspect though that they will prefer that something be exploited silently by a few than for the house to come down ahead of elections as the product inevitably fails before public scrutiny.

It’s unfortunate that Florida and other states got such abuse for the “hanging chad” problem. This opened the door in many places to silent control of the majority vote. Florida now uses scanning machines, but these also require software. A practical receipt system (and/or other workable and statistically legitimate checks and balances protocol) needs to be implemented in **all** cases.

[I am part of the dismal state of affairs as notice I accurate simply stated “I am going to consider”. Sorry… and please pass the hanky.]

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: E-voting security system: The Philips Head screwdriver

“but these also require software.”

Maybe a hardware based solution, where the instructions are hard coded and so can’t be changed. Or you know what. A software based solution where the hard drive has a physical mechanism of making it read only. You know, like how SD and 3 1/2 floppy drives have that tab that you can flip and it makes it physically read only. I wish hard drives and flash drives had something similar, but I think some patent exists on the idea and hence it’s not implemented. But of course you need some read/write medium to store the votes onto.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: E-voting security system: The Philips Head screwdriver

Remember the 5 1/4 floppy disk? It had a read-only mechanism as well. If course, it was easily added or defeated using a hole punch or a piece of tape, but it was there!

All of these methods are pretty easily defeated, so I do not think they would be more than security theater. Even a ROM chip can be flashed, and someone will find a way to do it inside the voting machine.

What still amazes me is that people can gain access into the voting machines themselves. We can’t put the CPU somewhere that a security guard can watch it and a cable to the touch-screen for the users in the booth? Can the CPU be in a safe of some sort? A screw protecting it? Really?

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