Why Online Voting Isn’t So Safe

Why Online Voting Isn’t So Safe

A California student tried to win a college government election by hacking into classmates’ accounts, which may lead to federal charges and increased privacy for not only colleges, but national and state elections as well.

Matt Weaver, a junior, ran for student government president at California State San Marcos, located near San Diego, when school officials said he hacked into a computer and stole 700 voters’ passwords and identifications to alter the polling results.

School police detained and released Weaver, but have yet charge him for the accusations, which include unlawful access to a computer, election fraud and identity theft.

The FBI, which usually isn’t interested in the college student government results, is investigating Weaver’s hacking skills. School officials said they caught Weaver working on a school computer, and in possession of a device, used to steal passwords.

Weaver, who edits an underground campus newspaper drawning criticism for its violent and sexual content, may face federal charges, FBI Special Agent Darrel Foxworth said. Meanwhile, the university locked down the 700 accounts, warned victims, and rescheduled the election for next month.

School officials said Weaver’s case is unusual, but students’ privacy at other campuses and high schools had also been compromised.

As students become more proficient in computers, such breaches may be more problematic. For example, 50 students at California’s Berkeley High School are facing suspension for hacking into the school’s computer system to charge students to clear out absentee tallies. At least four of the students face expulsion for using stolen passwords to access the school’s attendance database.

A study showed a 13 percent rise in ID theft cases last year, and as more students use smartphones, they’re entering and accessing their personal data on the go, making it easier for tech-savvy thieves to steal their information.

In addition, most college students access their grades, financial aid records, student loan information and more online. Many of those records are associated with Social Security numbers, so gaining access to student files may wreak havoc for years, especially if the stolen data is illegally used to obtain credit cards or loans.

Federal authorities are also examining Weaver’s activities to decide if such hacking may interfere with state or national elections.

Unlike in the school election, voters don’t casting their ballots online yet. However, that may change. In a few Oregon counties, election workers are using iPads and portable printers to call up ballots and tap the screen to vote. As the electronic voting expands, so does the risk for hacking, which may invalidate election results.

While Weaver may likely have just wanted to win the school election — at any cost — his actions are similar to those committing identity theft, which is a serious, prevalent crime. The incident underscores the notion that stealing online information is not just a game, it could mean facing federal charges, too.

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