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Most electronic voting systems can be hacked, CIA expert says
John Byrne
Published: Wednesday March 25, 2009


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CIA expert told panel he wouldn't divulge CIA's interest in voting systems in a unclassified setting

A top CIA cybersecurity expert told the US Election Assistance Commission last month that most electronic voting systems are insecure, according to transcripts obtained by McClatchy Newspapers.

The comments, by CIA expert Steve Stigall, are sure to fuel a new wave of anxiety over electronic voting. Stigall said any voting machine connected to the Internet could be easily hacked, and that while numerous US states have banned voting machines from having wireless capability, some machines can have the cards installed without officials being aware.

"You heard the old adage 'follow the money,' " Stigall said, according to the transcript. "I follow the vote. And wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to . . . make bad things happen."

"Computerized electoral systems can be manipulated at five stages, from altering voter registration lists to posting results," a summary of his remarks said.

Moreover, Stigall said that the CIA believes Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may have fixed a recent recount in his favor using such tactics. Chavez, he said, controlled most of the voting machines used and may have provided the program that was used to "randomly" select machines for audit during a recount.

The voting machines Venezuela used were made by Smartmatic, a company that partnered with Chavez's government which was owned by US-based Sequoia systems until 2007. Sequoia also provides voting machines for the District of Columbia and 16 US states.

The CIA expert was speaking before the US Election Assistance Commission, a "tiny" agency created by Congress to modernize voting practices, during a field hearing last month in Orlando.

"While Stigall said that he wasn't speaking for the CIA and wouldn't address U.S. voting systems, his presentation appeared to undercut calls by some U.S. politicians to shift to Internet balloting, at least for military personnel and other American citizens living overseas," McClatchy's Greg Gordon wrote. "Stigall said that most Web-based ballot systems had proved to be insecure."

"The CIA got interested in electronic systems a few years ago, Stigall said, after concluding that foreigners might try to hack U.S. election systems," Gordon added. "He said he couldn't elaborate 'in an open, unclassified forum,' but that any concerns would be relayed to U.S. election officials."

Paper receipts aren't a guarantor of electronic voting security, the CIA expert added, because the votes can be changed when or after they are transmitted to a master computer tabulating the votes or when they're posted online.


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