The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Security Vulnerabilities in Modern Voting

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John Wesley Kendrick '19 attends the DEFCON security conference.

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John Wesley Kendrick '19 attends one of the main stage talks on voting technology. 

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DEFCON attendees learn about security vulnerabilities and hacking in modern U.S. voting machines. 

Thanks to the Rockefeller Center, I had the opportunity to attend the DEFCON security conference this past July. Started in 1992, DEFCON now draws roughly 20,000 attendees each year. Notable speakers this year include Gary Kasparov, Elie Bursztein, and Matt Suiche. In addition to the main stage talks, DEFCON also features smaller venues within the conference center – known as ‘villages’ – dedicated to specific topics, such as hardware, networking, social engineering, and biohacking.

The newest village at DEFCON was the Voting Machine village. The objective of the village was simple: to alert the American public about security vulnerabilities in modern voting machines. Instead of focusing on what may or may not have happened during the 2016 election, we made it our mission to understand today’s voting technology and help ensure that future elections cannot be hacked.

DEFCON attendees found major security issues with the machines within minutes, including at least one over-the-air WiFi vulnerability. By the end of the conference, every voting machine had been compromised. Speaking up about these security vulnerabilities helps ensure that policy makers and voting tech manufacturers will use more secure technology in future elections.

Security researcher Matt Blaze brought up the infamous Bush v. Gore ‘hanging chad’ election debacle during his presentation on the history of voting in the United States. And yet, despite the Florida election chaos, paper ballots are more secure than our current electronic voting machines. Computer viruses cannot delete paper ballots. Until we manage to build better electronic voting machines, paper ballots may be our best bet.

-Submitted by John Wesley Kendrick​ '19, Rockefeller Center Mini Grant Recipient 

The Rockefeller Center's Mini-Grants program funds registration fees for students attending conferences, as well as the costs of bringing guest speakers to Dartmouth. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Rockefeller Center or constitute an endorsement by the Center.

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