KIYC: Connecticut's voting system secure, but still can be hacked

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NORWALK -

Is it possible for hackers to steal this year's election? A Kane In Your Corner investigation finds Connecticut's voting system is more secure than some nearby states, but is not completely secure.

When Connecticut voters go to the polls next Tuesday, they will use paper ballots, which many experts say is the better, more secure options for voting.

But paper ballots are not totally fool-proof. Since counting by hand is time-consuming, Connecticut depends on scanners to tabulate votes. 

Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Miller says she is confident that the scanners will not be hacked, but it is possible.

Each summer, hackers set up what they call a voting village at the annual DefCon Conference in Las Vegas. They found high-speed scanners like the ones used in Connecticut can be hacked simply by swapping out memory cards. 

The scanners also have no password protection and no software verification to prevent them from being overwritten.

Connecticut has mitigated the risk of hacking by performing random audits.

In New Jersey, their voting system remains among the most vulnerable in the country. And experts say hackers would only have to tamper with one or two voting machines statewide to create doubt and unrest, a situation most nearby states could avoid.

In New Jersey, most will cast ballots on some of the oldest machines still in use in America.  

Robert Giles, New Jersey's election director, says "when the machine is used as it's meant to be used, it's accurate and reliable."

But Princeton professor Andrew Appel, a national expert on election security, disagrees. Ten years ago, he first demonstrated how the machines could be hacked, programmed to switch votes from one candidate to another. "There would be no way to know and no way to recount," he says.

That's because New Jersey is one of only five states where there's no paper backup. "Whatever the computer says, whether it's hacked or not, is what you have to rely on," Appel says.

New Jersey election officials insist the machines are safe, in part precisely because of their age. Since the machines can't be networked, hackers would have to tamper with one at a time. "Some of these attacks, yes, you can do them in a lab," Giles says. "But are they viable attacks in the real world? And they really aren't."

Voting machines are only half the battle. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says 21 states had their online voter registration records targeted by Russian hackers in 2016. Connecticut was among them, New Jersey was not. In just a few minutes on the dark web, Kane In Your Corner found tens of millions of voter registration records for sale, although it's possible some might have been legally obtainable as public records.

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