The civic duty to ensure that American Web-based voting platforms are safe and secure for overseas voters, of course. (That and a vicious hatred for Ohio State football, believe it or not.)
As a program security trial, the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics encouraged outside parties to hack and find flaws in its online balloting system, part of the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation, which administrators plan to offer for roughly 950 military and overseas voters during November's 2010 midterm elections. Taking on the challenge, a group of University of Michigan students did what most logical, computer-savvy college students would do -- they hacked into the site and commanded it to play the University of Michigan fight song upon casting a vote.
Paul Stenbjorn, D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics director of information services, was not entertained.
"To be quite honest I didn't listen to it. I was less concerned with what the file was. Just knowing it was there was enough," Stenbjorn said of the Michigan pranksters. "No one here is a University of Michigan alum, so we didn't necessarily find it all that amusing."
As a brief interlude for your enjoyment, here is the University of Michigan fight song (a tune fans were not singing often on Saturday):
Still, the Michigan students are helping to foster a fruitful democracy. "This is why we did this. This was one of the objectives," Stenbjorn said.
After the hack, which was discovered on Oct. 6 and forced the site to be pulled down two days later, administrators decided to relaunch under a download-only format, allowing users to access ballots but forcing them to fax or mail them rather than cast a vote online.
So where do Iran and China fit in? According to University of Michigan assistant professor J. Alex Halderman, who spoke with a D.C. City Council committee on Oct. 8, hackers from Iran and China were also attempting the same decoding that Halderman's students accomplished.
"While we were in control of these systems, we observed other attack attempts originating from computers in Iran and China," Halderman said. "These attackers were attempting to guess the same master password that we did. And since it was only four letters long, they would likely have soon succeeded."
This isn't the first time University of Michigan students have performed mischief involving voting machines -- see Pac-Man on a voting machine below:
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