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ScienceDaily (Oct. 8, 2008) — Undergraduate and graduate students in an advanced computer security course at Rice University in Houston are learning hands-on just how easy it is to wreak havoc on computer software used in today's voting machines.
As part of his advanced computer science class, Rice University Associate Professor and Director of Rice's Computer Security Lab Dan Wallach tests his students in a unique real-life experiment: They are instructed to do their very best to rig a voting machine in the classroom.
Here's how the experiment works:
Wallach splits his class into teams. In phase one, the teams pretend to be unscrupulous programmers at a voting machine company. Their task: Make subtle changes to the machines' software -- changes that will alter the election's outcome but that cannot be detected by election officials.
In the second phase of the experiment, the teams are told to play the part of the election's software regulators. Their task is to certify the code submitted by another team in the first phase of the class.
"What we've found is that it's very easy to insert subtle changes to the voting machine," Wallach said. "If someone has access and wants to do damage, it's very straightforward to do it."
The good news, according to Wallach, is "when looking for these changes, our students will often, but not always, find the hacks."