Voting machine security flaws uncovered

Voting machine security flaws uncovered

Summary: Black Box Voting issued a report on the security of Diebold voting machines The investigation revealed security holes at the bootloader, OS, and application levels. The recommendations of the report were (quoting the report): Because there is no way of having chain of custody or audit trail for machines, the machines need to be reflashed with a known good version (assessing the risks potentially inherited).

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TOPICS: Security
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Black Box Voting issued a report on the security of Diebold voting machines The investigation revealed security holes at the bootloader, OS, and application levels. The recommendations of the report were (quoting the report):

  • Because there is no way of having chain of custody or audit trail for machines, the machines need to be reflashed with a known good version (assessing the risks potentially inherited). Ideally this should be done by the proper governmental authorities rather than being outsourced.
  • After that, extensive chain of custody management has to be established to make sure that machines do not potentially get recontaminated. Less than five minutes is required for contamination.
  • The bootloader needs to be re-engineered.
  • The cases need to be properly and permanently sealed.

This study was done with information gathered when Emery Count (Utah) County Clerk Bruce Funk allowed security experts to examine his county's machines. Needless to say Diebold and Utah Elections officials weren't too happy he did this. His actions however, have resulted in the first real security data about these machines.

The New York Times is reporting that The discoveries have caused officials in Pennsylvania and California to issue directives regarding the security of these machines.

Diebold issued a letter that downplayed the risk. The NYTimes quoted a spokesman from Diebold:

David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, said the potential risk existed because the company's technicians had intentionally built the machines in such a way that election officials would be able to update their systems in years ahead.

"For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software," he said. "I don't believe these evil elections people exist."

This is an incredibly naive thing to say. Of course people can be bribed. What an elections official will tell you is that people have always been able to affect elections and they have procedures in place to counter those. I think there's two problems with that argument:

  • First, these machines are new and the procedures that can catch problems are largely based on the old way of doing things. We just don't have much experience running elections with these kinds of machines. That will get better over time, but I'm always concerned about how elections officials are countering the new threats.
  • More importantly, in the past a single election work had control over a relatively small portion of the overall election and getting control over large parts of the election required a larger conspiracy. Law enforcement loves large conspiracies because they always break down somewhere. By introducing computers, we've potentially increased the reach of a single person to a larger part of the election system.

Should we panic? No. But we ought not to dismiss this security concern out of hand either as Diebold seems to hope we will. More states should subject more voting machines to independent tests by real computer security experts. If there's nothing to hide, then this should be a relatively painless thing to do. The fact that Diebold and other manufacturers are so unwilling to be forthcoming about the security of their machines leads me to wonder what they're worried about.

Topic: Security

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5 comments
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  • And why would anyone worry about Diebold?

    Perhaps because in August 2003, [b]The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in Ohio told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."[/b]

    And yes, that company would be Diebold.

    [i]http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0828-08.htm[/i]
    CTSTechs.com
    • Works both ways

      The governor of Maryland, a Republican, has been pushing for at least a year to require that the electronic voting machines at least have printer attached to record the votes as they are submitted. If some hard copy method is not provided that allows reverification, then he wants to use an optical scanner system with paper ballots until some such system can be put in place. Everytime he proposes it, he is denounced by the state elections office and the leaders of the state government, all Democrats, as just trying to spread fear and doubt, and that the system they have bought is perfectly secure. Maybe that is because ~70% of Maryland's population is located in 4 large, Democrat run, counties. Who needs a large conspiracy, when just a few get you most of what you need? This from a supposedly technology savvy state.
      non-partisan
  • Audit Trail

    For data integrity there must ALWAYS be a audit trail that cannot be easily compromised. Access to electronic data must be very carefully controlled with oversite and review. There is always the question "Who will watch the watchers". The answer is everybody..
    Bobertson
  • Paper Firewall

    Auditing is the paper firewall between business and government. Anything that we can not audit can be assumed to be corrupted.
    wmlundine
  • With 14% of precincts reporting in, we predict...

    ...Howard Stern the surprise winner of most elections from now on.
    ejhonda