Hackers say US voting systems are vulnerable; Vermont officials aren’t worried

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The 2020 Presidential Election may still be more than a year away, but election officials are still thinking about 2016, which exposed vulnerabilities in US voting systems around the country.

For the third straight year, ethical hackers at the annual Def Con Voting Village found a way to compromise the security of nearly every type of voting machine used in the US. According to the hackers’ final report, many of the voting systems in use have vulnerabilities that were first reported decades ago. 

But Vermont officials remain confident that the state’s system is secure.

Montpelier City Clerk John Odum attended this year’s Voting Village in Las Vegas to check out the hardware and network with other election officials. He says AccuVote, the system used in Vermont, is considered quite safe because it’s not connected to an external network.

“Most of the vulnerabilities to exploit would require some sort of direct access,” he said. “This is some very old technology. They’re generally not networked, they’re not attached to wireless or connected to wireless in any capacity.”

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos is critical of the Voter Village research, saying that does not reflect real-world conditions. Someone trying to infiltrate the votes in Vermont would need physical access to the AccuVote machines, he said.

“You would have to break into City Hall, break into the town clerk’s office, break into their vault, find the memory cards, reconfigure them and get out before anyone noticed it,” he explained. “It’s virtually impossible.”

“I just wish they wouldn’t sensationalize this story because basically this feeds right into what the Russians are trying to,” Condos said.

Condos says Vermont also collects voter-marked paper ballots that are secured through a strong physical chain of custody.

On the cyber side, Vermont has implemented two-factor authentication for anyone accessing a voting machine. The state also works with the Department of Homeland Security which conducts a weekly “cyber hygiene scan”.

“This is a race without a finish line,” Condos said. “It’s something that is our new normal and is something we have to focus on going into the future. We have to evolve just like the bad actors will.”

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed an amendment giving state $250 million for election security — less than half what House members want.

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