Hacker Fears Are Seriously Messing with the Oscars' Online Voting

The Atlantic
Hacker Fears Are Seriously Messing with the Oscars' Online Voting
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Hacker Fears Are Seriously Messing with the Oscars' Online Voting

So what happens if the Academy is too scared to cast Oscar ballots this year? It's not an entirely outlandish scenario, with the nominations less than two weeks away and reports screaming out of Hollywood that the awards' attempt at going digital may already be backfiring. Both the Hollywood Reporter and Deadline have semi-detailed accounts today of the surprising flaws within the Academy's new online voting system, and both conclude that it's so worried about hackers rigging  the Oscars that it's become difficult for the (increasingly aging) members to pick their actual favorites.

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The Academy enlisted Everyone Counts — an electronic voting company whose clients include the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.K.'s Ministry of Justice — back in January to help develop a secure system for voting online. Maybe too secure. Pete Hammond of Deadline writes that the system is "so loaded with specific safeguards and military-type encryption methods to keep hackers and imposters out that it is causing extreme frustration for some of those who have tried to vote." One member joked (we think) to The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg that "it's easier to break into the CIA." Everyone Counts, as a CNN article about online voting in political contests noted, "uses 'military-grade encryption' for its ballots, and can also provide a paper trail for clients who want it, [CEO Lori] Steele says." 

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Feinberg and Hammond both detail the new Oscar voting process, which includes forcing members to create an elaborate second password (beyond the one for main access to the Academy's site) and enter a security code that arrives via phone call or text message. Which sounds kind of like, say, resetting your online banking password, but remember, as Feinberg notes, the Los Angeles Times found that 54 percent of Oscar voters are over 60. Though certainly not all people over the age of 60 are computer illiterate, Feinberg himself pointed out in January that "the full story is that more than a few members don't even have computers and/or know how to use the Internet, which would preclude them not only from streaming screeners, but also from filling out an e-ballot." There have been efforts to include voters who don't want to turn to the Internet, but now, amidst all the bubbling frustration, there's worry that some members will just give up altogether. 

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Voting for nominees closes January 3, and, as Hammond writes, the Academy is so secretive about this stuff that we may never get a good sense of turnout anyway. But we can't help but wonder: If the Oscar voting pool's majority contingent of old white men gets diminished, does that mean some films could sneak to glory? Does it mean old white men-centric contenders for Best Picture like, say, Lincoln could suffer? Or could The Master, a favorite with the younger oddball set, or — gasp! — awards-season underdog Beasts of the Southern Wild break free? We'll just have to wait and count the e-ballots, we guess.

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