Researchers at TAU claim computerized voting system unsafe
While Interior Minister Eli Yishai is touting a computerized voting system that would replace the blue ballot boxes for local and national elections, researchers at Tel Aviv University say they have managed to easily break into the system, which is vulnerable to fraud and forgeries.
After numerous delays in enacting the reform, Interior Ministry officials say that Yishai will soon decide whether to recommend the electronic voting method to the ministerial committee on legislation. The government agency developing the paperless voting system is the Finance Ministry, which last year introduced an electronic method based on radio-frequency identification.
Yet Tel Aviv University experts say they had little trouble in cracking the system. The researchers said that the computerized voting software is vulnerable to attempts by hackers to prevent others from voting. In addition, the system does not safeguard against sophisticated attempts to forge and falsify votes.
Prof. Avishai Wool of TAU's School of Engineering said that adopting the new computerized voting service would present a danger to democracy.
"Electronic voting based on radio-frequency technology is not used for elections by any other country," said Prof. Wool. Researchers say the revolutionary technology does not sufficiently protect information. Finance Ministry officials rejected these claims, arguing that technological developments can quickly be enlisted to address these concerns.
The proposed system uses a voting computer as well as a smart card. Voters receive an empty smart card, hold it up against the computer, and select the desire candidate for whom they wish to vote. After voting, they insert the smart card into the ballot box. Election officials would then verify if there is a discrepancy between the figures recorded by the computer and those in the smart cards.
Wool and his colleagues managed to disrupt the voting computer's functions by erasing information from it using a variety of methods. According to Wool, the only thing needed to shut down the voting computer is a low-energy transmitter, like a car battery. "We succeeded in disrupting the computer from a distance of two meters in the laboratory," he said. Wool added that this can even be done through myriad ways from a distance of between 20 and 30 meters.
Wool and his fellow researchers also posted a video on YouTube that depicts how it is possible to destroy the smart cards. In one scenario, the battery from a dispensable camera emits an electromagnetic pulse for a short period of time. With the aid of an antenna which can boost the impact of the pulse, one can erase all the smart cards in the vicinity.
Finance Ministry officials rejected the researchers' claims, arguing that anyone seeking to disrupt the voting system's mechanisms would need to utilize large amounts of energy in the immediate vicinity of the computer.
Prof. Avi Rubin, an expert on computerized voting at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told Haaretz he was not surprised by the results of the TAU experiment. "Computer scientists have for some time succeeded in demonstrating that electronic voting systems are not safe," Rubin said.