Saturday, April 18, 2015

How do we know our voting machines are secure?

Ars Technica has a great article on a voting machine used in Virginia elections that is so insecure it was decertified after an audit revealed just how bad it was. That machine was initially offered for service in 2006. Who knows how many elections were hacked by the machine? We won't know because the machine is so insecure that a skilled person can alter the voting results without leaving any trace - over wifi.

The fact that the machine uses Windows is bad enough, to find that it uses an embedded Windows operating system so old it has not received an update in more than 10 years is ridiculous! How such a machine could ever be approved is a marvel to behold in American politics, but I can offer an alternative, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has.

Last October, I wrote an article to describe a completely transparent electronic voting system. From the bottom up, the entire system is built upon open source hardware and software. The specs and the code would be available to anyone who wants to see so that we, as a nation, can be sure that the our electronic voting systems will work as intended.

Such a system can easily be checked for accuracy. I'm not just talking about the voting machines. I'm also talking about the servers that tabulate the votes. The entire stack, from machine to server, must be made open source and available for inspection to ensure that there can be no tampering. With hashing algorithms like md5sum, we can check every component of the code before and after the election. We can verify that the wifi network is using strong encryption. We can use strong passwords for the system administrator and database admin accounts for each voting system. We can use Linux instead of Windows.

That incident in Virginia is an embarrassment to the electronic voting industry, but probably not for making such a poor example of a voting machine. No, if there is any embarrassment, it was more likely for being revealed at all.

We can do better. We deserve better. A democracy cannot function unless the will of the people can be accurately determined.

Here are some resources to learn more about voting machines:

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