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A Response To Diebold's Response To The Princeton Report PDF  | Print |  Email
By Douglas W. Jones, the University of Iowa   
September 15, 2006

Douglas Jones, professor of computer science at the University of Iowa, has released the following statement in response to Diebold's published response to the recently released Princeton report on the Diebold Accuvote TS voting machine.


Diebold says:

A virus was introduced to a machine that is never attached to a network.

This response dodges the question, expressing a complete misunderstanding of the nature of viruses by implying that viruses are irrelevant if there is no network. First, viruses originally emerged as a threat in the era of the Apple ][ personal computer, where they were spread on floppy disks that were hand carried between machines. What matters, clearly, is the presence of communication, not wires. Communication by hand carried disks, or PCMCIA cards, creates an environment in which the possibility of viruses is worthy of investigation.

The current generation AccuVote-TS software - software that is used today on AccuVote-TS units in the United States - has the most advanced security features, including Advanced Encryption Standard 128 bit data encryption, Digitally Signed memory card data, Secure Socket Layer (SSL) data encryption for transmitted results, dynamic passwords, and more.

Diebold has not released to the public sufficient information to allow an assessment of the competence with which these measures were applied. As a result, we cannot determine whether these are applied in an effective way, or whether they are as ineffective as the use of DES was back in 1997.


In addition to this extensive security, the report all but ignores physical security and election procedures. Every local jurisdiction secures its voting machines - every voting machine, not just electronic machines. Electronic machines are secured with security tape and numbered security seals that would reveal any sign of tampering.

See Avi Rubin's report. See the report from Cleveland [PDF] on the frequency with which these measures were used effectively. See Ed Felton's comments on the denial of service attack that security seals offer. I commented on the same with regard to the ES&S iVotronic in my comments on the pre-election tests in Miami in 2004.

If you take seals seriously, you must inventory seal numbers at the time applied and insist on recording the seal numbers at the time they are broken. Auditors must routinely check that these records are properly maintained, and any seal found broken should disqualify the machine it is attached to. Jurisdictions don't do this, and the seals being used are so flimsy that if they did, someone could shut down a polling place by careful use of their thumbnail. In sum, the use of seals, as it is being done now, is about cosmetics, not about security.

Secure voting equipment, proper procedures and adequate testing assure an accurate voting process that has been confirmed through numerous, stringent accuracy tests and third party security analysis.

Diebold owes the public a list of the third party security analyses that have found their system to be secure. None of the analyses I'm aware of drew positive conclusions. Certainly the redacted SAIC study, [ed note: The redacted SAIC report was originally posted here on Maryland's website, but now appears to be gone. So it's really redacted at this point apparently. The preceding link is to the Exec Summary of its findings instead] and the Compuware study [PDF], and the Raba study [PDF] all found major flaws. I've spoken with authors of the Raba study who were livid about the way Diebold lobbied them during the writing of their report to soften the wording, and then misrepresented the results in their public relations campaign that followed. The SAIC study is still not available in unredacted form. Does this mean that it still documents weaknesses that have yet to be corrected?

Every voter in every local jurisdiction that uses the AccuVote-TS should feel secure knowing that their vote will count on Election Day.

Indeed. I agree completely. They should feel secure. Or at least, that is what we owe them. I wish we could follow through on that promise.

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