DEFCON Voting Hacks — Much Ado about Nothing (well kind of)

  • DEFCON Convention: Voting Machine Hacks

(Business Insider) According to an article by Sonam Sheth hackers at DEFCON were able to breach multiple voting machines within only minutes.  Sheth’s article states that hackers were able to infiltrate every single one of the thirty voting machines within just moments of having physical access and that even rudimentary access measures had not been safeguarded against (such as adding a physical keyboard and pressing ctrl-alt-del).


Sheth is quick to point out the importance of these vulnerabilities while at the same time downplaying the fact that physical access was required for almost every single hack with nearly all the machines being air-gapped and lacking wi-fi capabilities.  While it is true that these vulnerabilities seem to ignore basic cybersecurity measures, one must also remain cognizant of the fact that these are not the latest and greatest machines, these were purchased in the secondary market and many of these are no longer in use throughout the US.  Furthermore, in nearly every single instance physical access was a critical element of the hack and voting machines and polling locations are generally fully staffed locations and the voting machines are kept in plain-view and have key-tags to prevent physical access.  Additionally, while hacking was possible on many of these machines, changing the vote totals would result in mismatches between ballots and the voting machine — such discrepancies would require operator intervention and verification.  I certainly agree that our electronic voting machines should require basic cybersecurity hygiene, however, I am reticent to stipulate that merely because physical access to (mostly) outdated machines demonstrates the ability to access and control these machines that somehow our election process is suspect.  That seems an unfair and unfounded characterization and is not at all what was borne out of the DEFCON hacking attempts.  However, we should be cognizant of the issues facing electronic voting machines and there should be minimum cybersecurity measures implemented for electronic voting — we just shouldn’t delve into panic mode (at least not yet).

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. She is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography