Hacker Tests Begin on Voting Machines

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Secretary of State Debra Bowen's new round of testing for voting machines in California has moved into one of the more controversial phases-- a "red team"of would-be hackers trying to break into the systems and change the outcome of the tallied votes.

The 'top-to-bottom' review of all voting systems certified for use has been a bit of a complicated process to follow. Bowen released an initial set of standards for the tests in March, but in early May made major revisions to the testing plan.

The chief elections officer has left many of the details of the tests-- on eveything from examining computer source code to assessing accessibility for the disabled-- up to the researchers, many from the University of California system.

In the "red team" attack, a group of testers tries a number of different ways to hack into the voting system and rig the votes tallied. The guidelines established by the researchers indicate that the attack scenario is pretty open to whatever the teams of testers come up with, though the documents admit that researchers are focused on the threats posed by 'insiders'-- in other words, people with some kind of specific knowledge about the machines and how they work.

This week, the public can view the process via a video feed in a conference room at the Secretary of State's offices here in downtown Sacramento.

Of course, you'd have to know about the testing to attend... and until now, it's not been publicized. A recorded message on a phone number listed on this website document is the only way to know that machines from vendors like Diebold Elections Systems and Hart Intercivic are some of the first to be tested.

As for what happens next... the researchers are expected to report their findings to Secretary Bowen over the next few weeks, and she intends to make decisions in early August about which voting systems can-- or can't-- be used for the February 5, 2008 presidential primary.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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