Penn State researchers help identify weaknesses in Ohio voting machines

University Park, Pa. -- An effort led by Penn State engineers recently completed its investigation of Ohio's electronic voting technology.

The results of the 300-page study, released in mid-December by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, showed exploitable weaknesses in the state's touch-screen and optical-scan devices. The testing of the machines was prompted by the problems experienced during the 2004 presidential election.

The Penn State effort was led by Patrick McDaniel, associate professor of computer science and engineering.

Two companies won the $1.8 million in contracts to test the Ohio machines: SysTest Labs Inc. and MicroSolved Inc. Penn State served as a subcontractor to SysTest, along with the University of Pennsylvania and WebWise Security, a research group of faculty and doctoral students at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

McDaniel led the academic review teams for the study, which is called Project EVEREST.

"Our report is an extensive technical analysis of the security of these voting machines as they would be used under real-world conditions," McDaniel said in a statement. "Our review concludes that the vendor systems lack basic technical protections necessary to guarantee a trustworthy election."

According to McDaniel, the teams had access to the voting machines as well as the software source code from the vendors. The researchers performed source code analysis and security penetration testing with the goal of identifying security problems that might affect the integrity of election results from the equipment.

All of the academic subcontractors conducted parallel independent studies. SysTest and MicroSolved examined other aspects of the voting technologies.

The Penn State team conducted hackability testing and source code analysis for the Hart and Premier Election Systems, including an examination of recent software upgrades.

Testing of the electronic voting systems was completed in early December.

"The report was identified by the secretary of state of Ohio as important in helping to set the election policy for the upcoming Ohio primaries and presidential elections," McDaniel stated.

A public version of the study's findings can be downloaded at http://www.sos.state.oh.us/sos/info/everest.aspx.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009