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Analysis of an Electronic Voting System

About the series

Lecturer: Avi Rubin, Technical Director, Information Security Institute

Recent election problems have sparked great interest in managing the election process through the use of electronic voting systems. While computer scientists, for the most part, have been warning of the perils of such action, vendors have forged ahead with their products, claiming increased security and reliability. Many municipalities have adopted electronic systems, and the number of deployed systems is rising. For these new computerized voting systems, neither source code nor the results of any third-party certification analyses have been available for the general population to study, because vendors claim that secrecy is a necessary requirement to keep their systems secure. Recently, however, the source code purporting to be the software for a voting system from a major manufacturer appeared on the Internet. This manufacturer's systems were used in Georgia's state-wide elections in 2002, and the company just announced that the state of Maryland awarded them an order valued at up to $55.6 million to deliver touch screen voting systems. This unique opportunity for independent scientific analysis of voting system source code demonstrates the fallacy of the closed-source argument for such a critical system. Our analysis shows that this voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts. We highlight several issues including unauthorized privilege escalation, incorrect use of cryptography, vulnerabilities to network threats, and poor software development processes. For example, common voters, without any insider privileges, can cast unlimited votes without being detected by any mechanisms within the voting terminal. Furthermore, we show that even the most serious of our outsider attacks could have been discovered without the source code. In the face of such attacks, the usual worries about insider threats are not the only concerns; outsiders can do the damage. That said, we demonstrate that the insider threat is also quite considerable. We conclude that, as a society, we must carefully consider the risks inherent in electronic voting, as it places our very democracy at risk.

About the Lecturer:
Avi Rubin is Associate Professor of Computer Science and Technical Director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins Rubin was a research scientist at AT&T Labs. Rubin is author of several books including Firewalls and Internet Security, second edition (with Bill Cheswick and Steve Bellovin, Addison Wesley, 2003), White-Hat Security Arsenal (Addison Wesley, 2001), and Web Security Sourcebook (with Dan Geer and Marcus Ranum, John Wiley & Sons, 1997). He is Associate Editor of ACM Transactions on Internet Technology and an Advisory Board member of Springer's Information Security and Cryptography Book Series. Rubin serves on the board of directors of the USENIX Association.

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