Brennan Center Report on Security of Voting Systems
From the Executive Summary:
In 2005, the Brennan Center convened a Task Force of internationally renowned government, academic, and private-sector scientists, voting machine experts and security professionals to conduct the nation’s first systematic analysis of security vulnerabilities in the three most commonly purchased electronic voting systems. The Task Force spent more than a year conducting its analysis and drafting this report. During this time, the methodology, analysis, and text were extensively peer reviewed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”).
The Task Force examined security threats to the technologies used in Direct Recording Electronic voting systems (“DREs”), DREs with a voter verified auditable paper trail (“DREs w/ VVPT”) and Precinct Count Optical Scan (“PCOS”) systems. The analysis assumes that appropriate physical security and accounting procedures are all in place.
Three fundamental points emerge from the threat analysis in the Security Report:
- All three voting systems have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities, which pose a real danger to the integrity of national, state, and local elections.
- The most troubling vulnerabilities of each system can be substantially remedied if proper countermeasures are implemented at the state and local level.
- Few jurisdictions have implemented any of the key countermeasures that could make the least difficult attacks against voting systems much more difficult to execute successfully.
There are a number of steps that jurisdictions can take to address the vulnerabilities identified in the Security Report and make their voting systems significantly more secure. We recommend adoption of the following security measures:
- Conduct automatic routine audits comparing voter verified paper records to the electronic record following every election. A voter verified paper record accompanied by a solid automatic routine audit of those records can go a long way toward making the least difficult attacks much more difficult.
- Perform “parallel testing” (selection of voting machines at random and testing them as realistically as possible on Election Day.) For paperless DREs, in particular, parallel testing will help jurisdictions detect software-based attacks, as well as subtle software bugs that may not be discovered during inspection and other testing.
- Ban use of voting machines with wireless components. All three voting systems are more vulnerable to attack if they have wireless components.
- Use a transparent and random selection process for all auditing procedures. For any auditing to be effective (and to ensure that the public is confident in
such procedures), jurisdictions must develop and implement transparent and random selection procedures.
- Ensure decentralized programming and voting system administration. Where a single entity, such as a vendor or state or national consultant, performs key tasks for multiple jurisdictions, attacks against statewide elections become easier.
- Institute clear and effective procedures for addressing evidence of fraud or error. Both automatic routine audits and parallel testing are of questionable security value without effective procedures for action where evidence of machine malfunction and/or fraud is discovered. Detection of fraud without an appropriate response will not prevent attacks from succeeding.
Voting machine vendors have dismissed many of the concerns, saying they are theoretical and do not reflect the real-life experience of running elections, such as how machines are kept in a secure environment.
“It just isn’t the piece of equipment,” said David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, one of the country’s largest vendors. “It’s all the elements of an election environment that make for a secure election.”
“This report is based on speculation rather than an examination of the record. To date, voting systems have not been successfully attacked in a live election,” said Bob Cohen, a spokesman for the Election Technology Council, a voting machine vendors’ trade group. “The purported vulnerabilities presented in this study, while interesting in theory, would be extremely difficult to exploit.”
I wish The Washington Post found someone to point out that there have been many, many irregularities with electronic voting machines over the years, and the lack of convincing evidence of fraud is exactly the problem with their no-audit-possible systems. Or that the “it’s all theoretical” argument is the same on that software vendors used to use to discredit security vulnerabilities before the full-disclosure movement forced them to admit that their software had problems.