ATLANTA — A $2.5 million security enhancement may actually make Fulton County voting machines less secure from hackers. That’s the warning from a tech expert who says hackers could take advantage of it during next month’s primary election.
Fulton County is buying 800 large metal cabinets, which will hold many of the new electronic voting machines the state is delivering for use in next month’s presidential primary.
Fulton elections director Rick Barron showed them to 11Alive last week. Fulton County bought them to help simplify the jobs of poll workers, and to help keep the devices locked up while stored overnight in polling precincts and early-voting centers.
Barron says the cabinets will save space and give voters more privacy when they use the state’s new ballot-marking system.
But Rich DeMillo says they’re too private – especially if the voter is actually a hacker.
"It looks like you can get access to the back panel of a touch screen. And once you have access to the back panel of the touchscreen, you can insert software (into a USB port), you can do all kinds of things you would do to a computer to mess it up," said DeMillo, a tech expert who is the retired Dean of Computing at Georgia Tech, and former Chief Technology Officer at Hewlett Packard.
In the past two years, DeMillo has warned that computerized voting invites hacking. He says hand-marked paper ballots are the only sure way to evade hackers. It's a position the state disregarded when it contracted with Dominion Voting Systems to acquire 33,000 new electronic ballot marking devices, which produce paper ballots that deliver QR codes to scanners.
Most counties are expected to put the large bright touchscreen voting machines on tabletops, in plain sight of poll workers and observers. But Fulton County’s cabinets, DeMillo said, would conceal the hands of hackers, posing as voters, reaching inside the cabinets to try to access computer ports.
"That would take seconds. It would be largely undetectable, I think," DeMillo warned. "They're not very secure."
Barron disagrees, saying a hacker reaching into a cabinet would likely draw the attention of poll workers. Barron told us last week he took tampering into consideration when Fulton spent $2.5 million for the cabinets.
"With these, because people are concerned with tampering, you don’t want to completely conceal the electronic equipment so that no one can see what’s happening inside," Barron told us last week.
Only a portion of the cabinets will be used in next months primary. The rest are expected to be delivered in time for the Congressional, US Senate and other state primaries coming in May.
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