How the 2016 election could be hacked

This segment originally aired Oct. 24, 2016, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

A quarter of all registered voters in the U.S. live in areas that use vulnerable voting machines, according to Reuters.

“America unfortunately is painting a bull’s-eye on its election system by continuing to use these antiquated touch-screen voting machines that have been shown for years to suffer from so many difficult vulnerabilities,” University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman told VICE News correspondent Michael Moynihan.

Halderman has researched and test-hacked dozens of election systems, including voting machines that are still used today. “We were able to develop vote-stealing software that someone with just a few seconds of access to this memory card could install,” he said.

Voting machines are vulnerable when they store votes in internal memory without producing a physical backup record. Dozens of different voting machines are used across the country, so it would be nearly impossible to swing a national election, Halderman said. Yet it is possible for a hacker to change the results in a particular county.

Recently, states and counties have been implementing low-tech safeguards. “We need to upgrade the technology quickly, and by upgrade I mean to go back to something that has a physical failsafe mechanism, something like a paper ballot,” Halderman said.

There are no good examples of hackers influencing a U.S. election so far, though, he says. “My goal is to keep it that way.”

Watch next: How not to get hacked

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