Now there’s something I need to admit here. Hopefully it won’t scare you courageous readers away. You see, as much as I (and fortunately, my employer) consider myself a security expert it wasn’t exactly my major. Nope, wasn’t computer science either. History, you ask? With a bit of molecular biology? Yep, you got it.
So when Pete Lindstrom reminds me that it’s not like voter fraud is new to US elections I have to admit he’s right, and I knew it. Heck, to this day rumors still float around that Joe Kennedy may have been a bit of a proactive campaigner for his son. Ballot stuffing and voter intimidation are fine American traditions with a long and- well respectable isn’t the right word, but a long and something- history. I doubt there’s been a single election in the United States, on any level, from kindergarden class president to the President, that’s escaped some degree of shenanigans.
So I will admit that despite my FUD and hand waving, the country won’t come to an end nest Tuesday leaving us all in some whacked out version of Mad Max where we mount staple guns to our Saturns. (Actually, I drive a Ford Escape… hybrid. I did used to live in Boulder and all).
The thing is, as cynical, pessimistic, and paranoid as I am after a lifetime of working security and rescue and seeing the worst in human behavior, I still cling to some shred of patriotic optimism that this country is something more. More than what? Just more. I grew up on 4th of July parades, Boy Scouts, and little American flags on our car antennas. I’ve been in some sort of continuous volunteer (or paid) service to this country since I was 16. I’m proud that, on occasion, I still get to wear a uniform (not military- rescue stuff).
Thus the hyperbole of my previous post is only the result of a deep desire to see this country live up to its potential. If we all keep rolling over and accepting things like voter fraud, there really won’t be anything left but voter fraud.
Fortunately there are plenty of indications that, in this case, we not only have a chance to mitigate the problem, but enough people are becoming aware that we have a problem to incite action. Us security experts do have an important role to play in exposing inherent flaws in current electronic voting systems. This is full disclosure at its very best.
E-voting itself isn’t dangerous; just the way we’re doing it now.
And all you non-security experts have the responsibility to ask questions and implement change. Kind of the whole democracy thing and all, since it really isn’t dead yet. Just resting.
But I hope Pete was kidding and is also worried, because e-voting is different. As with all information technology, it supports a scope and scale of fraud far beyond ballot stuffing or registering dead Civil War veterans. One programming change or glitch can swing elections on entire systems in a nearly undetectable way. A few pre-programmed memory cards can disenfranchise entire districts. If someone is stupid enough to connect these things to the Internet, one good worm or hacker could hand the Presidency to a 19 year old Diebold technician.
All those scenarios are very possible. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theory. Election fraud has always existed; now we’re enabling it on the scale of the Internet.
But the Boy Scout in me truly believes it won’t happen. Well, more than once. At least not on a national scale. Hopefully.
As long as we get off our asses.
And yes, keep watching this space.
On a separate but related note it looks like Diebold is turning into the Court Jester of voter fraud. According to Slashdot, Diebold is insisting HBO not air a documentary questioning the integrity of voting machines.
I’m not the biggest fan of using ROI to justify security expenses, but Diebold probably has a great case that the cost of threatening, suing, and defending themselves from allegations of security flaws is greater than the cost of actually fixing their damn product. Seriously guys, a couple of good security engineers are probably cheaper than all your lawyers and PR flacks. I can refer a few if you want.
I just saw the article and it looks like “Hacking Democracy” airs tonight. Knowing HBO it will run like, every hour, for a few months, so I’m off to set the TiVo…