Vulnerable to Hackers and Errors
Page uses Atkinson Hyperlegible font from Braille Institute
The wide-ranging examples here show that hacks and software errors in elections can be reduced but not prevented. The only protection is to detect errors and recover, which means independently checking the counts. Reputable software has hundreds of bugs, and annual updates have bugs. Chinese, Russians, other countries, and organized crime have infiltrated everywhere worth infiltrating. The SolarWinds hack is one of many similar (as yet undiscovered) infestations which affect all organizations. Policy makers need a broader, longer term view than software designers. Election offices & companies need physical tokens, not passwords.
Contents of This Page
E. Future Hacks
A. ELECTION MACHINE ERRORS
B. ELECTION VULNERABILITIES, WITH UNKNOWN RESULTS
1. 2023 Dominion executives recognize “our shit is just riddled with bugs... we don’t address our weaknesses effectively!” Besides bugs, they know they need more failsafes, for example that Dominion software should have been designed to catch the miscounts in Antrim MI. (pp.15-16, or 25-26 in pdf)
2. 2022 China aggressively targeted Canadian federal elections, with secret money for 19 candidates, some of whom knew it, and placing staff. Goal is to change Parliamentary votes on China. Do they do the same in other countries?
3. 2022 Increase of thousands of phishing emails detected for election workers before primaries in AZ & PA. If other states were targeted, it was not detected.
4. 2015-2022 Iran targets US elections
5. 2022 tests found that 30% of workers fall for phishing attacks in technology companies (election vendors would be in this category), and 25% in government.. These dropped to 5% after a year of regular anti-phishing training and monthly simulated phishes, so companies or governments with hundreds of workers stay very vulnerable.
6. On 6/3/2022, CISA warned states about several vulnerabilities in Dominion ballot marking devices.
7. On 11/4/2020, before any state had audited election results, CISA and other federal agencies assured voters that "Robust safeguards including canvassing and auditing procedures help ensure the accuracy of official election results." And 11/12/2020 they said "The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history" still before audits were done. These were the same federal officials who had not noticed their own systems had been infiltrated by Russian hackers for 8 months. Yet they were sure all 15,000 election jurisdictions were secure. Commentary narrowed their claims.
8. As of 2019, researchers have found security flaws in all election computers, which let voters, staff members or outsiders disrupt or change results, often without detection.
9. Through 2019, Russia has spent billions of dollars on a decade of work to create broad-based new ways to attack election computers (zero days), using independent teams so they don't reveal each other's methods.
10. In July 2018 the FBI told Maryland officials that a local web hosting company they used for voter registration, candidacy, online ballot delivery, and election results had been owned since 2015 (or 2011) by a company financed by Vladimir Potanin, a Russian oligarch close to Putin. The manager is a Russian millionaire, Guerman Aliev, who took an American name, Gerald T. Banks. Maryland's Senate President said the FBI "weren't really anxious for us to come forward" to tell the public (quote is at 6:54 in video). FBI also told state officials in 2017 not to tell the public about foreign intrusion attempts (pages 146-151 of court filing).
11. In March 2018 the security site CSO found on the dark web over 100 emails of workers at one of the largest companies making and programming election machines, ES&S, and smaller numbers at smaller voting machine companies. They also found passwords for the accounts, though the companies said these passwords did not meet their current standards, so would have been changed. Nevertheless with valid emails, attackers can spray password variations until they log in on at least one of the accounts and install malware. Hackers share tips on the dark web.
14. In August 2017 the biggest manufacturer of voting machines, Election Systems & Software, created a public file on Amazon Web Services with "encrypted versions of passwords for ES&S employee accounts. The encryption was strong enough to keep out a casual hacker but by no means impenetrable...The worse-case scenario is that they could be completely infiltrated right now".
15. In May 2019 the FBI told Florida officials 2 counties' voter registration systems had been penetrated by Russia in 2016. The FBI could not say if the Russians changed the files, and only revealed anything because the Mueller Report did. The counties were Washington and one other.
16. In 2016, "We can assume that the majority of states were probably a target... I want to make clear today on the record, it's likely that all 50 states were likely affected... Every organization is scanned a lot, sometimes thousands of times a day. What we were trying to differentiate between: we saw very concerning activity from known suspicious servers in this case... They were targeting to look for vulnerabilities... Probably tried all the states. These are the states we could see they were trying. That's right." ~US Department of Homeland Security Senate hearing at 41 minutes.
17. They attacked "in alphabetical order by state name... voter registration and election results sites... to identify and exploit SQL database vulnerabilities in webservers and databases. The FBI and DHS... noted that they had no information on how many of those attempts were successful, aside from two instances"
18. August 24, 2016, hackers sent phishing emails to seven workers at VR Systems, which provides voter registration systems and election-night reporting. "At least one of the employee accounts was likely compromised." Then on October 27 they used VR Systems credentials to send phishing emails to 122 local election officials. If they opened it, it installed malware which opened a persistent back door into the computer. At least 10 computers were harmed (¶77b). The government has not said and may not know what the hackers did with their back door. Mueller's indictment July 13, 2018 confirms these events (¶73-77) and adds that the hackers targeted more than one election company (¶69). 2 years after the election, the press revealed that VR Systems had a common practice of remotely accessing county election systems, to troubleshoot them, up to the day before the election.
19. Also in 2016 hackers sent emails pretending to be from another election vendor, offering "election-related products and services." The same hackers sent emails to election workers in American Samoa "mimicking a legitimate absentee ballot-related service provider." NSA does not know what they accomplished with any of these attacks.
20. In 2016 Georgia, Indiana and Idaho said the US Dept. of Homeland Security tried to bypass firewalls in election systems without permission. Kentucky and West Virginia said DHS probes of their systems were not malicious.
21. Ukraine's 2014 election results were hacked, but officials removed a virus and believe they had correct totals. South Africa's 1994 election was hacked, and officials hand-compiled the counts, as noted at right.
22. A 2007 study for the Ohio Secretary of State reported on election software from ES&S, Premier and Hart. Besides specific problems it found, it noted that all "election systems rely heavily on third party software that implement interfaces to the operating systems, local databases, and devices such as optical scanners... the construction and features of this software is unknown, and may contain undisclosed vulnerabilities such trojan horses or other malware."
C. AIR GAPPED, OFFLINE COMPUTERS
2. 2022 NATO classified documents stolen from Portugal
3. 2022 Detect vibrations with a smart phone gyroscope
4. 2020There is standardized malware to enter air gapped computers, by hiding in files on thumb drives, in case the drive is later taken to an air-gapped computer, such as updates for voting machines. It was developed by hackers who are believed to work for South Korea.
8. CIA in 2011-15 had "A major concern... that the Russians were collecting information from a breach of computers not connected to the Internet... The CIA had already figured out how to perform similar operations themselves."
D. BEST-DEFENDED INDUSTRIES
This list shows that companies' computers will never be bug-proof or hack-proof, since problems happen at even the best-defended industries. Hacks and bugs can be reduced but not prevented. The only protection is to detect errors and recover, which means independently checking election tallies.
1. 2020-2023 Microsoft exposed 38 terabytes of their private files with read/write access, by misconfiguring a token given to the public
2. 2023 China hacked thousands of computers through a weakness in Microsoft security. Russia also hacked Microsoft, with less clear results
3. 2020-2023 China deeply penetrated Japanese military networks
4. 2023 UK Electoral Commision revealed hacker had access to their emails and the UK voter registration system from August 2021 to October 2022
5. 2023 Fleets of computers in data centers can be hacked remotely through a vulnerability in the code which lets administrators update multiple computers.
6. 2023 Secure radio controls for pipelines, water & other critical infrastructure have had a backdoor since the 1990s. The firmware was secret, so not checked until Dutch researchers reverse-engineered it in 2021. The firmware has been replaced in new radios with other secret codes, not yet checked by outsiders. These radios are used throughout the world, though not commonly in the US
7. 2023 MSI (which makes motherboards and computers) leaked its signing key, so hackers can send updates with back doors and other malware
8. 2023 Microsoft will take a year to fix a severe security bug in booting up its computers, because correcting it makes old boot media fail.
9. 2023 Motherboards from Gigabyte, used in high performance computers have backdoor installed by maker in the firmware which loads the operating system, so it is hard to see or remove
10. 2023 US no-fly list is distributed to many airlines, and leaked from one of them
11. 2022 Hack of Sargent & Lundy engineering firm, which has designs of electric utilities and is subject to looser cyber standards than the electric utilities
12. 2022 CISA recommends phishing-resistant multi-factor authentication, but important to know how it can still be phished or hacked
13. 2022 Apple only maintains full security fixes on latest versions of operating system, though saying others are "supported".
14. 2022 Microsoft Defender lets through 19% of phishing emails
15. 2007-2022 Python bug present in 350,000 projects
16. 2022 Subscription for criminals to bypass multi-factor authentication, by capturing the session cookies which prove authentication, so criminals can continue to access the victims' accounts, $400/month
17. 2022 5G networks are hackable
18. 2022 intruders gained access to Cisco, by phishing an employee, intending to sell access
19. 2022 China runs "a coordinated campaign on a grand scale... Seeking to bend our economy, our society, our attitudes to suit the Chinese Communist Party’s interests... the Chinese Communist Party is interested in our democratic, media and legal systems. Not to emulate them, sadly, but to use them for its gain... But the right model can’t be to scale the operational agencies to somehow take on all of this activity."
20. 2022 Homeland Security staff have been charged with helping China.
21. 2022 Organizations which discover they've been hacked don't improve defenses enough to avoid future hacks.
22. 2022 "Managed Service Providers This advisory defines MSPs as entities that deliver, operate, or manage ICT services and functions for their customers via a contractual arrangement, such as a service level agreement... Offerings may include platform, software, and IT infrastructure services; business process and support functions; and cybersecurity services... U.S. cybersecurity authorities expect malicious cyber actors—including state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) groups—to step up their targeting of MSPs in their efforts to exploit provider-customer network trust relationships."
23. 2022 Malware "offline and online delivery technique" is for sale for $69/month or $249 lifetime use.
24. 2022 Defense staff & contractors need card reader at home to use secure systems. Common reader has malware.
25. 2022 storage from SanDisk, Sony, Lexar, and probably others has a flawed, breakable file encryption system.
26. 2022 Defense Department still uses Chinese telecom & security equipment declared insecure 3 years before. So do corporate jets and rural cell phone towers (needed by election workers). Chinese companies are ending support in the US. DOD use includes web-connected security cameras.
27. 2019-2022 Ragnar Locker ransomware infected "at least 52 entities ... in the critical manufacturing, energy, financial services, government, and information technology sectors,"
28. 2022 China has been using a hacking tool unnoticed for 10 years
29. 2022 NSA used a set of hacking tools for 10 years in 45 countries, primarily China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Spain, India, Russia, Mexico and Italy.
30. 2022 DHS & Commerce report said, "The ubiquitous use of open-source software can threaten the security of the software supply chain given its vulnerability to exploitation... outsource firmware development to third party suppliers, which introduces risks related to the lack of transparency into suppliers’ programming and cybersecurity standards." (Cartoon which they didn't cite). Developers can set the code to attack certain computers
31. 2022 75% of US defense contractors fail government standards
33. 2021 58-80 vulnerabilities exploited in the wild before manufacturers knew of them (zero-days). In 2020 there had only been 25-30. "For all types of actors, a lot of bread-and-butter hacking still involves exploiting vulnerabilities that became public long ago but haven't been patched consistently. Zero-days are still less common. But by tracking which zero-days have already been actively exploited, defenders can prioritize deploying certain patches and mitigations in the endless stream of updates that need to be done."
34. 2021 University of Cambridge found a dangerous vulnerability in at least 19 compilers (used in all commercial software), it gave 99 days notice, and only 9 of the 19 said they'd fix it. (Horrifyingly, 2 require that bug reports come in by non-encrypted email). Software companies tended to ignore bugs which used an unfamiliar approach.
36. 2021 US military generally omits cybersecurity from contracts for weapons systems.
37. 2021 Australian sites pervasively hacked by Chinese actors, "state actor activity often goes unnoticed by targets, who only find out they’ve been compromised from government officials or outside threat analysts,"
38. In Jan-March 2021 30,000-250,000 email systems were hacked by a previously unnoticed Chinese team, with software which also leaves a backdoor in the organization's computers. The hack started by Jan 3, was reported to Microsoft Jan 5, became widely used in late February, and a patch was issued March 2, though thousands more systems per hour were still being hacked by at least 5 groups on March 3. The vulnerabilities in the software had been present since at least 2010. A different Microsoft email hack was in Jan-March 2019. All computer systems are now targeted by nation-states, though cloud systems may get patched faster.
39. In 2020, the US government and worldwide companies were infiltrated broadly by a hacked update of Orion computer management software from SolarWinds company. 2021 summary. The company used password solarwinds123 from 2017-2019. As an update, it was installed in air gapped systems as well as internet-connected ones (partial list of victims). It's the tip of an iceberg: "Chinese, others, they've all built huge capabilities, they're well-resourced, well-staffed, [and] focused on doing exactly this. This is not a one-off, this is not something unusual... I guarantee you that there are other operations similar in size and scope, if not larger, that haven't been discovered." Federal systems watched for known problems, not for connections to previously unknown servers. Sure enough, the Chinese had been hacking through SolarWinds at the same time.
41. The depth of CIA infiltration of China has led to China espionage teams in 2010-2021 becoming much more professional and wanting the same depth of infiltration in the US.
42. US energy companies in 2018-2020 and "a wide range of US-based organizations, state and federal government agencies, and educational institutions," hacked by Russia.
43. Domain registrars for entire countries in 2018-19, letting hackers spy on and change emails and web results throughout the country. The registrars succumbed to phishing.
44. Phone calls for several years up to 2019
45. Homeland Security in 2019, through a contractor
46. Attacks rising in 2018
48. 2018 Defense Department kept buying and using Lexmark printers and Hikvision security cameras despite knowing China can conduct surveillance through them.
49. Chinese hacked most of the biggest providers of cloud computing in 2010-2017, including IBM, 224 systems at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Computer Sciences Corp, Fujitsu, Tata Consultancy, NTT Data, and many other firms through them, including the US Navy's biggest shipbuilder (incl. nuclear submarines), Sabre reservations for thousands of hotels and hundreds of airlines (so they could surveil all traveling executives), Ericsson telecoms, biotech firm Syngenta, which was then bought by Chinese. Hacks continued to succeed even after they were noticed and defenses mounted. They gathered hundreds of login credentials. Many hacked companies were not told, and if told they denied they lost anything.
50. In 2017, using NSA software, "hackers from North Korea were using some of those picklocks to break into the computer systems of, among other places, British hospitals, German railways, Russian banks, a French automaker, Indian airlines, Chinese universities, the Japanese police, FedEx, and electrical-utility companies all over the United States... WannaCry."
51. "Deloitte in 2017
52. FBI in 2011-2016 radio encryption decrypted by Russia
53. DoD in 2007, Jan and June 2015, 2016, so DoD pays bug bounties. In 2018, GAO staff "were able to take control of [DOD weapons] systems relatively easily and operate largely undetected." Alarms went off so often the operators ignored them.
54. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016
56. Mozilla in 2015
57. General Electric/Safran aircraft engine designs hacked by China 2010-2015
58. Boeing (jet fighters) in 2008-2014
59. 1,000 oil and gas companies in 84 countries, 2012-2014
60. 2014 "there are two kinds of big companies in the United States. There are those who've been hacked by the Chinese and those who don't know they've been hacked by the Chinese... Their strategy seems to be: We'll just be everywhere all the time."
61. By 2013 the NSA "appeared to have acquired a vast library of invisible backdoors into almost every major app, social media platform, server, router, firewall, antivirus software, iPhone, Android phone, BlackBerry phone, laptop, desktop, and operating system."
62. Nuclear and other companies in 2006-2014
64. "In 2008, Russia got into a network at the Pentagon; hackers broke into the campaigns of both Barack Obama and John McCain; the next year, North Korea compromised the Web sites of everything from the Treasury Department to the New York Stock Exchange. In 2010, a computer worm called Stuxnet... NSA’s sponsors—American taxpayers—who now relied on NSA-compromised technology not only for communication but for banking, commerce, transportation, and health care. And nobody apparently stopped to ask whether in their zeal to poke a hole and implant themselves in the world’s digital systems, they [NSA] were rendering America’s critical infrastructure—hospitals, cities, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, oil and gas, defense; in short, everything that undergirds our modern lives—vulnerable to foreign attacks.
67. Symantec in 2012
69. Programmers'denial of reality codified in 2003.
70. Moonlight Maze 1996-1999 documents taken from US military, other government agencies, and military contractors.
71. "In 1968, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board Task Force on Computer Security concluded that “contemporary technology cannot provide a secure system in an open environment."
1. 2023 "China already has a bigger hacking program than every other major nation combined," Wray said.... Mandia told Reuters at the conference that Chinese hackers were increasingly among the best spies out there
2. 2022 Password manager LastPass hacked
3. 2022 74% of malware is used only once, so is not caught by checking for past malware signatures
4. 2022 a top CISA goal is "to reduce the time-to-detect and time-to-remediate intrusions," which recognizes attackers will get inside, so remediation is the first priority.
5. 2022 half of vulnerabilities are in code which was badly patched. There were over 17,000 vulnerabilities reported in 10 years/
6. Thousands of websites collect keystrokes before a user clicks Submit.
7. A 2021 MIT study found averages of a 3-4 vulnerabilities per 10,000 lines of code (or 5-12 in cryptographic systems).
8. In 2021 an Amazon security staffer said about casual cybersecurity, "Why would you care about cloud security? You don't have to bust your ass because you live in a small-town market where you know everybody and you’re never going to be out of a job. A lot of companies that are headquartered in remote areas don't have particularly sophisticated IT teams."
9. In 2021 Bruce Schneier wrote "The president of the United States is a singular espionage target, but so are members of his staff and other administration officials. Members of Congress are targets, as are governors and mayors, police officers and judges, CEOs and directors of human rights organizations, nuclear power plant operators, and election officials. All of these people have smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Many have Internet-connected cars and appliances, vacuums, bikes, and doorbells. Every one of those devices is a potential security risk, and all of those people are potential national security targets. But none of those people will get their Internet-connected devices customized by the NSA."
10. In 2019, CIA chief of counterintelligence said, "Russians are a professionally proficient adversary who have historically penetrated every American institution worth penetrating."
11. In 2015, FBI director said, "there are two kinds of big companies in the United States. There are those who've been hacked by the Chinese and those who don't know they've been hacked by the Chinese." If Chinese can hack big companies, they can hack election offices to help some candidates win or lose.
12. In 2011, the director of PricewaterhouseCoopers' forensic services practice said, "you have to assume you've been compromised" by the cyber Mafia.
13. An NSA official told a Washington Post reporter, "Russians, Chinese, French, the Israelis, the Brits... full-fledged nation-state attempt to exploit your IT. To include not just remote stuff, but hands-on, sneak-into-your-house-at-night kind of stuff... If some of those services want you, they’re going to get you." It turned out the reporter had also been hacked by Turkey, while India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Iran, Vietnam, North and South Korea also use expert hackers. Would any of these countries want to defeat members of Congressional committees on armed services, foreign affairs or trade, by hacking one or two large election offices in their districts? If caught they'd blame and even arrest their "rogue" private citizens.
14. "Every piece of commercial software... has hundreds if not thousands of vulnerabilities, most of them undiscovered." Over 100,000 software vulnerabilities are publicly known (besides zero-days, which are not public). Many thousands have been found by each big web company, such as Oracle, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Adobe, Qualcomm. Over a thousand companies pay bounties for bugs. Election companies are not immune. "The potential for high-tech catastrophe is embedded in the fabric of day-to-day life" Scanning ballots will let us recover.
15. What the FBI said about hacking emails applies widely: "we don’t have direct evidence that the server was successfully hacked. We wouldn’t, though, expect to see that evidence from sophisticated adversaries, given the nature of the adversary and given the nature of the system."
16. Wired says, "the average time between a malware infection and discovery of the attack is more than 200 days, a gap that has barely narrowed in recent years. 'We can’t operate with the mindset that everything has to be about keeping them out,' says Rich Barger, ThreatConnect’s chief intelligence officer. 'We have to operate knowing that they’re going to get inside sometimes. The question is, how do we limit their effectiveness and conduct secure business operations knowing they’re watching?' Accomplishing that means building networks that are designed to limit a hacker’s ability to maneuver and creating better ways to detect anomalous behavior by allegedly authorized users.
17. Even in key industries, companies leave clickable links in incoming emails. On average 4% of recipients open any particular phishing message, and 22% open at least one per year. At 4%, sending a phishing message to 30 recipients gives a 70% chance that someone will open it. Even at 1%, sending to 120 recipients gives a 70% chance that someone will open it. There is no reliable way to tell phishing emails from legitimate emails. When people think an email looks suspicious, and send it for checking, 90% are "legitimate" (p.5 Phishing 2018), which means most people cannot tell them apart. Sending them for checking simply prevents access to the 90% which are legitimate, since checkers rarely send them back. At a minimum, staff in key industries who click on a test phishing email need all clickable links removed from future incoming emails.
18. The FDA recalls insecure medical devices. No one recalls insecure election machines.
19. Protect, Detect, Respond Recover. We must strengthen all four steps.