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Could e-voting machines in Election 2012 be hacked? Yes.

Security experts say a specific kind of electronic-voting machine is vulnerable to being hacked. Influencing a national election would be difficult, but the advance of malware makes it possible.

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Voters cast ballots on touch-screen voting machines during in-person absentee voting at the Fairfax County Governmental Center in Fairfax, Va., in early October.

Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS/File

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Rapid advances in the development of cyberweapons and malicious software mean that electronic-voting machines used in the 2012 election could be hacked, potentially tipping the presidential election or a number of other races.

Since the machines are not connected to the Internet, any hack would not be a matter of someone sneaking through cyberspace to change ballots. Rather, the concern is that an individual hacker, a partisan group, or even a nation state could infect voting machines by gaining physical access to them or by targeting the companies that service them.

The 2010 discovery of the Stuxnet cyberweapon, which used a thumb drive to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and spread among its computers, illustrated how one type of attack could work. Most at risk are paperless e-voting machines, which don’t print out any record of votes, meaning the electronically stored results could be altered without anyone knowing they had been changed.

In a tight election, the result could be the difference between winning and losing. A Monitor analysis shows that four swing states – Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida – rely to varying degrees on paperless machines.

"The risk of cyber manipulation of these machines is quite real," says Barbara Simons, a computer researcher and author of "Broken Ballots," a book documenting e-voting vulnerabilities. "Most people don't understand that these computer-based voting machines can have software bugs or even election-rigging malicious software in them."

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