NEDAP voting machines hacked

Here’s a press release from ICTE that’s well worth a read if you still trust voting machines:

Concerns expressed by many IT professionals about the security of the e-voting system chosen for use in Ireland were today shown to be well-founded when a group of Dutch IT Specialists, using documentation obtained from the Irish Department of the Environment, demonstrated that the NEDAP e-voting machines could be secretly hacked, made to record inaccurate voting preferences, and could even be secretly reprogrammed to run a chess program.

The recently formed Dutch anti e-voting group, “Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet” (We don’t trust voting computers), has revealed on national Dutch television program “EenVandaag” on Nederland 1, that they have successfully hacked the Nedap machines — identical to the machines purchased for use in Ireland in all important respects.

ICTE representative Colm MacCarthaigh, who has seen and examined the compromised Nedap machine in action in Amsterdam, notes “The attack presented by the Dutch group would not need significant modification to run on the Irish systems. The machines use the same construction and components, and differ only in relatively minor aspects such as the presence of extra LEDs to assist voters with the Irish voting system. The machines are so similar that the Dutch group has been using only the technical reference manuals and materials relevant to the Irish machines as a guide, as those are the only materials publicly available.”

Maurice Wessling, of Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet, adds “Compromising the system requires replacing only a single component, roughly the size of a stamp, and is impossible to detect just by looking at the machine”.

Both ICTE and Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet view this as yet another demonstration that no voting system which lacks a voter-verified audit trail can be trusted. According to ICTE spokesperson Margaret McGaley “Any system which lacks a means for the voter to verify that their vote has been correctly recorded is fundamentally and irreparably flawed”.

Margaret McGaley highlighted that it is the machines themselves that are at risk. “This particular issue is not about the vote counting software, which we already know must be replaced, this is about the machines that the Taoiseach has claimed were ‘validated beyond any question’. We now have proof that these machines can be made to lie about the votes that have been cast on them. It is abundantly clear that these machines would pose a genuine risk to our democracy if used in elections in Ireland.”

ICTE is repeating its call, which reflects the opinions shared by IT expert groups, including the E-voting group of the Irish Computing Society, that any voting system implemented must include a voter-verified audit-trail.

This is a major exploit. Colm’s earlier mail noted

As we knew already, the machines run on m64k processors, and it’s relatively easy to reverse engineer what all of the registers and inputs correspond to. The dutch group were able to successfull assemble code to run on the machine, and even burn it on the very eeprom that comes in the machine.

Since the NEDAP design does not include XBox-style boot-time cryptographic verification of the EEPROM’s contents, undetectable replacement of the operating system is a 2-minute matter of unsticking the trivial ‘seals’ on the voting machine’s access panels, popping out an EEPROM chip, and replacing with a modified one, then closing it up again.

Once that’s done, the election is rigged, as WVSN have demonstrated.

Update: here’s their paper describing the attack in detail — well worth a read.

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  1. Posted October 6, 2006 at 21:42 | Permalink

    This should come as no surprise, any machine is hackable, but it is no the hackers I worry about as much as who is doing the final tally of votes.

  2. Posted November 3, 2006 at 20:00 | Permalink

    Does anyone in the world think that electronic voting is a good idea any more? It amazes me that the government are still going through the charade of pretending that they are going to roll it out for unspecified future elections.