Halderman’s Hackers: How Safe is Online Voting?


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Alex Halderman testifying before the DC City Council

Alex Halderman traveled all the way from Michigan to attend a D.C. Council hearing on internet voting. In his testimony before the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, Halderman, a professor at the University of Michigan, offered one stunning revelation after another.

Within 36 hours of the challenge issued by D.C.’s Board of Elections and Ethics, Halderman and several graduate students (who we are dubbing “Halderman’s Hackers”) had taken control of D.C.’s online voting system.

Once in control, Halderman’s Hackers, “changed the ballot for every voter in the system… [replacing] them with write-in votes for evil robots from science fiction. In addition to that, we were able to rig the system to tell us how everybody voted, violating the secret ballot. Beyond this, we left a calling card to illustrate that we had complete control of the server… after a voter voted [the server] would play the University of Michigan fight song,” said Halderman.

While inside the system, Halderman’s Hackers discovered that Iranian and Chinese programmers had already cracked into the network. In order to protect the system, Halderman’s Hackers changed the password and blocked them out. Additionally, Halderman’s Hackers took control of the security cameras that were monitoring D.C. election officials.

Jeremy Epstein is a computer security and voting systems expert with SRI International. After testifying alongside Halderman at the D.C. Council, he said, “Internet voting is inherently not a good idea. There’s just too many problems… Every system, every website is just too easy for the bad guys to get in. We don’t have the technology today to provide the level of security that you need for an honest election.”

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