FBI Director: Our Electronic Voting System Is Such A Complete Mess, It Would Be Difficult To Hack

from the well,-then dept

There's been plenty of talking going around this election cycle about the terrible security problems with our current voting technology -- along with some conspiracy-theory level talk of foreign agents looking to "hack" the election. We haven't been very impressed with officials telling us all to calm down and it's difficult to see how FBI director James Comey did himself any favors by basically arguing that the voting system is secure... mainly because of what a complete and utter mess it is. The larger point he's making is somewhat valid, if clunky, in the fact that each state runs their own voting, so it's not like hackers can get into one central system and wreak havoc. The different systems definitely make it harder. But arguing that this is a sign of good security seems kind of ridiculous:
“The beauty of the American voting system is that it is dispersed among the 50 states, and it is clunky as heck,’’ said Mr. Comey. “A lot of people have found that challenging over the years, but the beauty of that is it’s not exactly a swift part of the internet of things, and so it is hard for an actor to reach our voting process.’’
Yeah, that's basically security through obscurity... at scale. Not exactly very reassuring, even if the underlying point may be true.

Wouldn't it be better if we just made sure the systems were actually secure (i.e., not computerized and connected to the internet) rather than just "clunky"?

Filed Under: e-voting, elections, fbi, hacking, james comey


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 10:52am

    By the same logic, it will be almost impossible to detect subtle hacks that tip swing elections in a desired direction, and carried out by an insider.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 1:37pm

      Re:

      Those are likely the words he was trying to skirt around. His argument hinges on the election not being close enough for a few states with election-fraud to change the presidency...

      What a clunky mess of an argument. While no foreign country is likely to have enough ressources and enough interests in USA to sway an election, 4 parties might...

      Neither the democratic nor republican primaries were shining examples of fair and democratic elections...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 9:54pm

      Re:

      let me make a BIG STATEMENT here..

      How many states VERIFY addresses?
      HOW many states verify and match Birth and death records??
      How many states verify Property ownership?? and WHERE they live?

      What would it take to OWN property, in many states, and be allowed to VOTE?? because the STATE dont realize you live in ANOTHER state??

      Easy trick? YEP.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 6:44am

        Re: Re:

        How many research papers have you read, written on the topic of fraud in our election system?

        Nice try but you will need to produce some evidence, not just insinuations.

        Stating that "We're just asking the questions" does not cut the mustard.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 13 Sep 2016 @ 10:57am

    “The beauty of the American voting system is that it is dispersed among the 50 states, and it is clunky as heck,"

    Out of the 50 states exactly how many different systems are used? There are a few vendors... 4 to be more precise... that have the majority of the voting system sales.

    How many states do you need to sway an election? So you only need to know exploits on 2 systems to make a big impact no?

    Look away folks nothing to see here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    johnjac (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 11:05am

    Oh Onion, You got me again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 11:45am

    It is true that it is harder to hack 50 different systems than it is to hack 1, all else being equal. Takes more time to learn how to compromise each one. But the extra overhead in needing to compromise 49 additional systems isn't a substantial enough barrier for a potential nation state adversary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    streetlight (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 12:00pm

    The system doesn't need to be hacked

    For electronic voting machines or central tabulating computers having a USB port the system doesn't need to be hacked. It can be destroyed with that $50 USB thumb drive that destroys the machine. Maybe it really is a hack if a concerted effort is made by a nefarious group to vote late in the day at selected precincts where voting histories are known. At least in my county in Colorado we vote using mail in paper ballots or paper ballots at precincts. They can be counted by hand if the readers break down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 12:23pm

    The upside?

    Comey seems almost happy that our system is such a clusterfuck. But then again he is always happy with something he could hack, if knew how. And there is the problem, he doesn't know shit about anything digital, just repeats catch phrases he heard somewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 12:29pm

    Is Comey in on it?

    As Anonymous Coward notes, yeah, multiple systems may slow down a single hacker or even a small organization, but not a large one the size of (say) the DNC or the Russian espionage sector.

    This sounds like Comey is in on the vote tampering that is scheduled.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 1:06pm

    It only takes one

    Perhaps the Director is trying to be coy and use security via obscurity. Unfortunately, the folks who might want to play games probably understand how the US electoral system works, primarily because it is described IN EVERY GRADE SCHOOL SOCIAL STUDIES BOOK. Given how close US elections have been it only takes one state to mess up a national election, and it only takes one state to make a mess of local elections for federal office since we are so evenly divided.

    I am basing this analysis on an assumption that the Director knows how the US electoral system (including the Electoral College) works. That may be a stretch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 1:44pm

    "A lot of people have found that challenging over the years..."
    Spoken like someone who has first hand experience hacking the American election system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    any moose cow word, 13 Sep 2016 @ 2:03pm

    Most states are effectively guarantied to one of the parties. Any potential hackers won't need to target every state in a close race, not even half. They only need to "sway" the swing states.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 2:36pm

    yes it is..

    1. I dont want to hack it, I want to fix it..
    2. WHO in hell would want to hack it, EXCEPT those in this country?? we make MORE of a mess with this, then THEY EVER COULD..
    3. this is as bad as saying "The illegal MEXICANS want to vote"..WHY?? they just come here WORK, MAKE MONEY, and get a free ride back home.. AND what about the REST of south America??

    Lets see...Make a BASIC programmed system to take votes, NO USB, or anything else that can HACK the system..then VERIFY the programming before counting it..
    have at LEAST 3 parties acknowledge this protocol...and AWAY WE GO..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 3:30pm

    Wow, I am revealed. It's a good thing we don't use a system where a single state, or a small number of states could be the deciding factor for a presidential election.

    I am sorry.... electoral what?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 13 Sep 2016 @ 3:46pm

    Paper Ballots Please

    If voting in national elections in the US actually meant something other than granting your consent to be governed by the duopoly (War Party) then paper ballots would be the preferred method of casting votes.

    The convenience of electronic voting should not take precedent above the ability to audit the vote via a physical/tangible paper ballot trail.

    Paper ballots may not be pretty but they once served this nation very well for 200 years.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      any moose cow word, 13 Sep 2016 @ 4:10pm

      Re: Paper Ballots Please

      Horses and wagons, as well as quill pens, candles and many other handmade goods may not be pretty but they once served this nation very well for 200 years. The convenience of cars and electricity should not take precedent above the ability to audit where our power and goods comes from!

      Sorry, but luddism isn't a good argument. Our laws and means of governance should be open to some degree of change, even for the sake of modern convenience. Nonetheless, it should always be transparent and accountable to the people. In the context of voting machines, they should make the source code open for public review or at the very least available for independent security audits and testing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Personanongrata, 13 Sep 2016 @ 4:57pm

        Re: Re: Paper Ballots Please

        any moose cow word, Sep 13th, 2016 @ 4:10pm

        Horses and wagons, as well as quill pens, candles and many other handmade goods may not be pretty but they once served this nation very well for 200 years. The convenience of cars and electricity should not take precedent above the ability to audit where our power and goods comes from!

        Sorry, but luddism isn't a good argument. Our laws and means of governance should be open to some degree of change, even for the sake of modern convenience. Nonetheless, it should always be transparent and accountable to the people. In the context of voting machines, they should make the source code open for public review or at the very least available for independent security audits and testing.

        Please what a dissembling pile of horse cocky if I've ever smelt one. PU.

        Suggesting the use of paper ballots verses electronic voting machines is not Luddism.

        It is common sense.

        Paper ballots serve a very important function electronic voting machines do not and that is having an auditable election with the paper ballots being physically available for a recount.

        The various technologies allowing for the operation of trains, planes and automobiles are at a minimum 100 years old for winged flight and almost 200 years for railways.

        Just because something is old does not render it obsolete.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          any moose cow word, 13 Sep 2016 @ 10:41pm

          Re: Re: Re: Paper Ballots Please

          The voting machines we have around hear keep a paper record too, which you can be verified by both the voter before submitting the ballot and by the state for manually recount, if someone wished to do so.

          But hey, why let facts ruin your silly rant?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 6:53am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Paper Ballots Please

            "The voting machines we have around hear keep a paper record too"

            Good for you Biff. Mean while, back at the ranch, they have no paper trail and politicians like it that way.

            But hey ... why let a few facts get in the way of your - whatever you call that.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          any moose cow word, 13 Sep 2016 @ 10:48pm

          Re: Re: Re: Paper Ballots Please

          The various technologies allowing for the operation of trains, planes and automobiles are at a minimum 100 years old for winged flight and almost 200 years for railways.

          This might come as a shock, but in the 21st century planes are no longer made of wood, we don't use metal cranks to start our cars in the morning, and trains don't burn coal. ALL of them have advanced a great deal in 100+ years, and continue to do so.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 6:57am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Paper Ballots Please

            "in the 21st century planes are no longer made of wood"

            Some are, you really need to get out more.



            "trains don't burn coal"

            Some do, are you really this sheltered?


            I see you think being advanced means throwing caution to the wind, but not everyone shares your enthusiasm for wanton recklessness.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 5:23pm

      Re: Paper Ballots Please

      Don't you get a print of you votes or something like that?
      I remember reading an article of someone observing the process of comparing paper to computer votes. And when those didn't match they just added or removed the obviously wrong paper votes.

      And as for the convenience part: There is no difference for voters. We have paper votes only here and you go in to voting center, give your ID, get a paper, go into a booth, make an X or two, fold it, and put it in a sealed box. Takes 1-2 min max.

      Counting might take a bit longer but first results are usually up 2-3 hours after the centers close.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 3:59pm

    It doesn't take 50 states.

    A few precincts will probably do. But Comey is smart enough to know that what he is saying is bullshit. My take on most of what this guy says, is that it's expectation management.

    He must have received his post election assignments and is trying to get ahead of a big workload. Like maybe the Cessna 208s they plan on dispatching to likely riot areas use more fuel than he budgeted for, and so he is trying to calm the herd a little to save operational costs?

    Probably cheaper to just buy more billy clubs. But that doesn't have quite the same optics as micro targeting the "trouble makers" with close air support.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 5:10pm

    So, the FBI is secure because ...

    Comey is complete and utter idiot.

    A man in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation feels it is duty to convince everyone else to make his job easier because he doesn't really get security. An agency that entraps citizens because it cannot find terrorists, what better way to spend time than convincing Americans to act against the country so they can arrest them, thus proving that they are protecting America.

    Yeah, right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ruby, 13 Sep 2016 @ 5:26pm

    (i.e., not computerized and connected to the internet)

    ......Again, I can't speak for all states, but I know that Ohio's voting machines are NEVER connected to the internet and I'm pretty sure that's standard.

    Each machine just runs pre-programmed software and saves the results to memory card (which appears to be a proprietary design). The memory card is located in a port that has a lock (which is different for each machine; no master key) and affixed with a barcoded tamper seal.

    The machines have no usb ports at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 7:01am

      Re:

      Have those voting machines ever been subjected to an audit?
      How about a design/code review?

      How does the vetting of Bank ATMs compare to that of voting machines?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Mayor, 13 Sep 2016 @ 8:14pm

    NATIONAL ELECTIONS STANDARDS

    Yes Mike, I agree!... but, what's most damnable about what James Comey is offering up, is that it fails to even acknowledge the U.S. Constitutional requirement for EQUAL PROTECTIONS AND EQUAL BENEFITS BEFORE AND UNDER THE LAW!
    .
    In other words, having each state run a national voting process in such a fragmented fashion... AND WITHOUT A NATIONALLY MANDATED SET OF VOTING STANDARDS!... inevitably leads to a rejection of HARMONIZED PROTECTIONS AND BENEFITS FOR ALL U.S. CITIZENS! Some citizens will receive more protections and benefits in some elements of the process, and others will receive less! AND SO!... THIS SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED IN AMERICA!... AND!... SHOULD FORM THE BASIS OF A FUTURE U.S. CONSTITUTIONAL BATTLE!
    .
    Politicians acting like spoiled brats at a birthday party, is not a solution to an important issue, such as voting_in those who will lead the country!
    .
    Please!... no emails!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lets play Oger!, 13 Sep 2016 @ 8:38pm

    So un tracable not unhackable

    so chaotic no one can tell if its been hacked or not, which is exactly how is supposed to be, it's a feature not a bug

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever, 13 Sep 2016 @ 10:42pm

    Give me a C! O! M-E-Y!

    I'm totally cray-cray for Comey!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 8:08am

      Re: Give me a C! O! M-E-Y!

      ...Funnily enough, as much as this is an obvious spoof, I can actually see the real Whatever having a fanboy moment like this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    rebrad (profile), 14 Sep 2016 @ 6:27am

    No Credibility

    How can I trust a man who couldn't find any reason to recommend charges against a politician that committed far worse crimes than those who are currently rotting in jail? I'm sure someone will employ this man in the future but not for his credibility or honesty. One might even ask why no charges have been against him for obstruction of justice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Pronounce (profile), 14 Sep 2016 @ 2:46pm

    FBI Doesn't Want Them Fixed

    If companies were to fix the security issues it would remove the backdoors the government has demanded be installed on all the voting systems.

    Gag orders work wonders.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 5:59pm

    FBI Director: it's such a mess that we can't give Clinton a clear victory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2016 @ 4:10am

    Thats ok fbi, its only the system used to elect your "cammander in chief", who'll then go on to have access to the most violent capable gang in the world

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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