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Hackers Elect Futurama’s Bender to the Washington DC School Board

March 3, 2012
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Electronic voting has earned a pretty bad reputation for being insecure and completely unreliable. Well, get ready to add another entry to e-voting's list of woes.

One Bender Bending Rodríguez was elected to the 2010 school board in Washington DC. A team of hackers from the University of Michigan got Bender elected as a write-in candidate who stole every vote from the real candidates. Bender, of course, is a cartoon character from the TV series Futurama.

This was not some nefarious attack from a group of rogue hackers: The DC school board actually dared hackers to crack its new Web-based absentee voting system four days ahead of the real election. University of Michigan professor Alexander Halderman, along with two graduate students, did the deed within a few hours.

After looking over the e-voting system's Ruby on Rails software framework, Halderman’s team discovered that they could use a shell injection vulnerability to get into the system. This allowed them to retrieve the “public key," which is used to encrypt the ballots. With the public key in hand, the hackers were able to change every ballot already in the system and replace any subsequent real ballots with fakes.

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