The U.S. election is less than a week away and the government is on alert for any possibility of computer hacking to manipulate results. This week on Digital Defense, Bloomberg Technology’s weekly cybersecurity show, we discussed ways hackers could tamper with election results and steps voters can take to protect themselves.
One potential vulnerability is vote manipulation or vote dropping of electronic tabulation systems, the risks of which were highlighted in the 2015 municipal elections in Memphis. Shortly after the vote, Memphis computer programmer Bennie Smith discovered a problem with the way a popular electronic tabulation system, called GEMS, counted ballots. The errors caused more than 1,000 votes to go missing, mostly from black churches.
The method Smith used to catch the problem should be a playbook for any candidate, party or concerned citizen worried about the accurate tallying of their votes: Smith snapped some pictures of printed voting tallies (known as poll tapes) at a high-turnout polling location and then compared the results there to the electronic tabulations. This is a very good, if labor-intensive, way to check to ensure that votes are being counted correctly.
Smith has created a proof-of-concept program called Fraction Magic, showing how corrupt officials could tamper with GEMS to manipulate election outcomes.
Another potential vulnerability is voter registration. We’ve seen a wave of hacks against state voter registration databases, from Arizona to Illinois, Florida and California. The takeaway from these attacks is that hackers could cause significant disruption if they changed a voters’ registration information, leading to long lines and chaos on election day. Voters who are concerned about this should verify their registration information and polling location online ahead of time.