Old software, equipment create Election Day security concerns

Expert says groups working to sway the vote continue to be a major concern

By Brittny McGraw - Anchor

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Midterm elections are just a few days away and the security of the country's voting systems and machines will be a top priority.

10 News talked with Randy Marchany, Virginia Tech's information technology security officer, about the possible threats on Election Day.

"There's nothing more critical in a democracy than to vote and have that vote counted accurately," Marchany said.

He said one security concern is the age of the equipment and software currently in use.

"A lot of localities across the country are using voting machines that have been around for 10 years, and in computer terms, that is geologic," Marchany said. "That is in the dinosaur age in terms of what the technology was in 2008, 2006, and this is the type of machines that are being used."

He said the best solution is to replace voting systems on a five-year cycle, but funding is a major obstacle to implementing that.

In 2015, Virginia stopped using a voting system that security analysts said was at serious risk of being compromised. In 2017, Virginia's Board of Elections voted to replace touchscreen voting machines that did not produce a paper trail.

"Those are the best voting machine architectures that you can have: something that records the vote electronically and prints out a paper receipt," Marchany said. "You want to be able to audit that and make sure the paper receipt count matches what the electronic counts are."

He said hacking and software glitches could happen, but are unlikely. He said any hacking attempts would likely require physical access to the places where voting machines are stored or manufactured.

He said software glitches are also a possibility, but the risk is low.

"It's software, and software has flaws," Marchany said. "Just because you didn't find a flaw today, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It just means you didn't find it today."

Marchany said the greatest risk comes from groups working to influence the election through social media and other channels.

"A lot of times attackers will go for the easy vector," Marchany said. "The easy vector is to influence you as the voter and make you put in the vote the way they want you to. That's a lot easier than to go into a voting machine and change a vote once it's been cast."

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