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Researchers: Voting machines can be easily hacked

As it turns out, hacking an election isn't as hard as you'd think.

A poll worker helps a man at a voting machine.

Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Image.
  • A group of hackers has demonstrated that many common voting machines are easily compromised.
  • The group presented their findings to Congress, where election security is increasingly a serious concern.
  • The question of how secure voting machines are isn't new, but the current political climate gives it new meaning.

Election security is on the minds of millions of Americans. Fears of election tinkering are widespread, and even Congress is concerned enough to try to do something about it. The problem got a lot scarier this week, as hackers descended on Capitol Hill to explain how easy it was for them to hack into several kinds of voting machines.

Do voting machines vote for electric sheep?

A group of ethical hackers has demonstrated that several common voting machines can easily be hacked.

In a demonstration at the DEF CON cybersecurity conference, the hackers were able to compromise every voting machine they tested. Dr. Matt Blaze, a co-founder of the election testing project and a professor at Georgetown, warned that the findings of the tests could be easily replicated by those with access to the machines, including voters and poll workers.

In some cases, the hackers predicted that they could have done their damage without being near the machine at all, opening the door to more remote hacking possibilities if the machines are set up incorrectly.

The flaws that the hackers found were varied, ranging from wimpy default passwords to weak encryption.

This all becomes even more terrifying when you realize that the hackers bought their machines for this test on eBay. Anybody who can win an auction can get one of these commonly used voting machines to tinker with. Professor Blaze hastened to remind the Washington Post that "The resources of … eBay are well within that of our foreign adversaries."

The hackers, concerned by their findings, spoke to members of Congress about their findings to underscore the need for increased election security. The found a few very concerned Representatives. Finding more funding then that which has already been dedicated to the issue may be more difficult.

Why is this important?

Concerns about electronic voting machines being hacked or unreliable aren't new, the 2006 film Man of the Year features this as a plot point, and videos all over YouTube show news reports on this same problem going back for years, but take on a new meaning in a time when we know that Russians tried to access voter databases in Florida.

The American political system makes the issue even more serious. To win the presidential election, a candidate doesn't need a majority of the votes overall, but merely a majority of the electoral college votes — which can be captured by winning a few key states. A compromised voting machine in a couple of these states could sway a close election.

The primary finding of these hackers that voting machines can be compromised is nothing new. The only change is how seriously we are taking the problem. Combining this with the increased risk of foreign election interference we face today, the United States is now in a situation where the most critical elections in the world can be easily hacked.

Maybe we should all go back to paper ballots. Those have always worked, right?

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Personal Growth

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

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