Astoundingly High Security…

Diebold’s voting machines have been under fire for quite some time because of a number of security issues.  The latest black eye for them concerns the crappy locks they chose for the units:

The access panel door on a Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machine — the door that protects the memory card that stores the votes, and is the main barrier to the injection of a virus — can be opened with a standard key that is widely available on the Internet.

On Wednesday we did a live demo for our Princeton Computer Science colleagues of the vote-stealing software described in our paper and video.  Afterward, Chris Tengi, a technical staff member, asked to look at the key that came with the voting machine.  He noticed an alphanumeric code printed on the key, and remarked that he had a key at home with the same code on it.  The next day he brought in his key and sure enough it opened the voting machine. 

This seemed like a freakish coincidence — until we learned how common these keys are.

Chris’s key was left over from a previous job, maybe fifteen years ago.  He said the key had opened either a file cabinet or the access panel on an old VAX computer.  A little research revealed that the exact same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment, jukeboxes, and hotel minibars.  It’s a standard part, and like most standard parts it’s easily purchased on the Internet.

As usual when the government tries to fix things they get worse, rather than better.  After the 2000 election fiasco, many people began pushing for electronic voting systems.  However, I’m not convinced that these systems are ready for prime time.  Our voting system here was recently replaced, with the old “complete the line” optically scanned ballots being replaced with an electronic tablet that reminds me of a cross between a Speak-n-Spell and an Etch-a-Sketch.

The beauty of paper is that there’s a non-volatile, non-electronic trail that shows the intent of the voter.  If a voting machine crashes it can take its votes with it, which is why a paper trail is vital.  Oddly enough, it seems that Diebold was very much against having a paper trail of any sort.  I haven’t followed where that ended up, but any system without a paper audit trail that retains a record of the votes is a fiasco waiting to happen.  If you think the outcry in 2000 (from idiots who couldn’t be arsed to read the instructions) was bad, just wait until a whole voting precinct’s results are lost when a memory card goes Tango Uniform.

Link via Slashdot.

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