Monday, July 15, 2019

States spending millions on new voting systems, but old software makes them still vulnerable to hackers

Though many counties and states have spent millions in federal funds updating their electronic voting systems to make them harder to hack, the new systems are still vulnerable to hacking, including in several battleground states.

"Many of these new systems still run on old software that will soon be outdated and more vulnerable to hackers," Tami Abdollah reports for The Associated Press. According to AP's analysis, "The vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts."

Starting Jan. 14, 2020, Microsoft Corp. will stop providing technical support and software patches to fix vulnerabilities for Windows 7. That means hackers can much more easily exploit vulnerabilities, and for longer. Microsoft told the AP it would offer Windows 7 security updates through 2023 for a fee, Abdollah reports. In many states, expenses for elections are determined by local officials.

Many states are affected by the end of Windows 7 support, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Abdollah reports.

"Critics say the situation is an example of what happens when private companies ultimately determine the security level of election systems with a lack of federal requirements or oversight. Vendors say they have been making consistent improvements in election systems. And many state officials say they are wary of federal involvement in state and local elections," Abdollah reports. "It’s unclear whether the often hefty expense of security updates would be paid by vendors operating on razor-thin profit margins or cash-strapped jurisdictions. It’s also uncertain if a version running on Windows 10, which has more security features, can be certified and rolled out in time for primaries."

It's an urgent issue; U.S. officials found that Russian hackers accessed voter databases and software systems in 39 states, and warn that Russia, China and other countries are trying to influence the 2020 elections. Abdollah reports. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, who was President Trump's chief of staff, told a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce dinner last week that Russians "made a decision about who they wanted to be president, and they were very good at what they did."

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