Researchers at Princeton University have discovered that a widely-used Diebold voting machine can be opened with your average mini-bar key. Once one of these machines is tampered with, it can be used to create a computer virus that will spread to other machines and secretly change all the votes in a district (or perhaps in the entire country).

Researchers Ariel J. Feldman, J. Alex Halderman and Edward W. Felton have written a paper demonstrating that someone who gets physical access to one of these machines for as little as ONE MINUTE could “install a malicious code that could steal votes undetectably, modifying all records, logs, and counters to be consistent with the fraudulent vote count it creates. An attacker could also create malicious code that spreads automatically and silently from machine to machine during normal election activities?a voting-machine virus.” They constructed working demonstrations of these attacks in their lab at Princeton.

According to, after a recent demonstration, Chris Tengi, one of their group, “asked to look at the key that came with the voting machine. He noticed an alphanumeric code printed on the key, and remarked that he had a key at home with the same code on it. The next day he brought in his key and sure enough it opened the voting machine. This seemed like a freakish coincidence?until we learned how common these keys are.

“Chris’s key was left over from a previous job, maybe fifteen years ago. He said the key had opened either a file cabinet or the access panel on an old computer. A little research revealed that the exact same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment, jukeboxes, and hotel minibars. It’s a standard part, and like most standard parts it’s easily purchased on the Internet. We bought several keys from an office furniture key shop?they open the voting machine too. We ordered another key on eBay from a jukebox supply shop. The keys can be purchased from many online merchants.”

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To read the paper, click here.

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