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DC Suspends Tests of Online Voting System 170

Posted by timothy
from the vote-erlich-and-often dept.
Fortran IV writes "Back in June, Washington, DC signed up with the The Open Source Digital Foundation to set up an internet voting system for DC residents overseas. The plan was to have the system operational by the November general election. Last week the DC Board of Elections and Ethics opened the system for testing and attracted the attention of students at the University of Michigan, with comical results. The DC Board has postponed implementation of the system for 'more robust testing.'" Update: 10/06 02:42 GMT by T : University of Michigan computer scientist J. Alex Halderman provides an explanation of exactly how the folks at Michigan exploited the DC system.
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DC Suspends Tests of Online Voting System

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  • open public review (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @07:25PM (#33801552)

    Every critical government system like this should be required to pass through a period of open public review before even being considered for use.

    They could actually use prizes to be paid by the government contractor who submitted the bid. If they do a shoddy job on security, they'll not only lose the bid, but they'll also lose additional money (a refundable deposit) to whoever finds their security flaws.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <> on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @07:28PM (#33801586)

    Voting machines should definitely be electronic.

    Online voting seems to be so problem-prone as to be useless. Something as simple as a smurf attack could potentially block every voter from casting their ballot in time.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @07:33PM (#33801650)
    I have to agree, online voting has some very serious problems with it. Even if you solve the technological ones, you'd still have to figure out how to prove that the person that's actually voting is the intended voter and that there isn't anybody there that's suggesting how they should vote.
  • by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @07:34PM (#33801662)
    Erm, on further thought, that would just make it like vote by mail.
  • by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @07:38PM (#33801714) Journal

    One of the articles mentioned that some browsers submitted blank forms because they don't support inline PDF forms. Who, exactly, thought that using PDF was a good idea? The whole point of the web is that it provides layout standards. Why even bother using a web browser if you're just going to try to hack around it by using a completely different content format, PDF, shoved in using browser plug-ins. It might has well have been Flash. Use the web or do not. There is no halfway.

    And of course, their servers were obviously insecure, as evidenced by someone managing to alter content on the servers.

    What does all this tell us? Well, it tells us that:

    • For anything approaching secure content delivery, the actual content (the HTML pages, the javascript files, etc.) must be signed prior to installation on the servers, not signed by the servers that provide it.
    • Web-based clients lack the infrastructure to verify signatures on the content itself except for the signatures provided by the servers.
    • Web-based clients are therefore inherently insecure.

    Not that this shouldn't have been anything less than obvious to anyone with even a basic understanding of computer security.... Real secure networks built on top of HTTP use client applications that verify signatures on the content that the servers provide, ensuring that it is legitimate before acting on it. This also, of course, requires that people obtain the client software in a secure fashion, which is a problem in and of itself, in much the same way that obtaining the client on-the-fly from a web server is a problem, and for precisely the same reason.

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @07:55PM (#33801850)
    if we can't make online voting work, we can't function at all in the digital age.

    Current history disproves this your statement. We cannot yet make online voting work and yet we function pretty well in the "digital age".

  • by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @08:14PM (#33802048) Journal

    But a paper vote can be audited by the original voter.

    And electronic vote can be manipulated just long enough to pass through the counting register, and when it gets back to the original voter it can look exactly like it did before it was manipulated.

  • Conspiracy? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by supernatendo (1523947) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @08:20PM (#33802098)
    I find it scary that at the same time as trying to make it unlawful to use encryption that the government doesn't have a "backdoor" into, they are also trying to push "secure" internet voting. Goodbye democracy, we hardly knew you...
  • Welp (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Frogbert (589961) <`frogbert' `at' `'> on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @08:21PM (#33802132)

    I suppose its a good thing they tested the system.

    Isn't this the type of thing testing is supposed to identify?

  • Sad yankee system (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iris-n (1276146) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @08:28PM (#33802208)

    Has anybody the comments section in the Washington Post website? It is disgusting to see how much hatred and ignorance is going on there. I hope they're not a representative sample of the USian population.

    Meanwhile, in Brasil, we just had a presidential and local election. About 100 million people voting, in an all-electronic process. There were no reports of fraud whatsoever, and the election results were available just 2 hours after the polling stations closed.

    Can't the US do better? Your voting system is just laughable.

  • by jd (1658) <> on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @08:30PM (#33802222) Homepage Journal

    Not necessarily. It should be possible to devise an online voting system that worked securely and reliably. To defeat DoS/DDoS attacks, you would probably want to have virtual circuits (eg: MPLS) or bandwidth allocation (eg: RSVP) such that an attack cannot encroach on the voter's bandwidth. Alternatively, an ISP could run Snort or another NIDS system in such a manner as to detect a DDoS attack and block the source addresses. So long as it was done far enough upsteam that there was still available bandwidth, this would prevent an attack. Or they could use a packet-dropping scheme that is designed to handle "unresponsive flows" such as UDP and ICMP.

    In the case of RSVP, there would be a certain bandwidth reservation (via UDP) between the client and the central server. This bandwidth is guaranteed by the protocol and the routers enforce this. Because it uses UDP, you have to then use a layer on top of that to provide the reliability. There are plenty of file-transfer protocols using UDP that have such layers, so the code is out there.

    However, ALL of this requires cooperation by ISPs at one level or another. In other words, the ISP would need to be certified as capable of guaranteeing vote delivery in order to provide any kind of guarantee. This could be done. The ISPs won't like it, but it could be done.

  • by Tanman (90298) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @08:55PM (#33802470)

    We are doing better.

    If you take the viewpoint of The Man.

  • Re:GNU Free (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Albanach (527650) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @10:15PM (#33803186) Homepage

    They could also be collected by political parties from voters through theft, bribery or coercion then used to cast multiple votes.

  • by guanxi (216397) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @10:19PM (#33803210)

    Web-based clients are therefore inherently insecure.

    Web-based clients are insecure simply because you don't have physical control over them. You don't control the network, the routers, or the client machine. Give me (or some malware author) the client machine, and who cares what you signed on the server or how?

    Imagine this: You're a security consultant. A client says: Secure this system, it can change the course of U.S. history (so it has a little value). And by the way, the system extends to 150 million clients running every kind of hardware, software, and configuration imaginable, maybe 25% of which are infected with malware, and to which we have no access and over which we have no control. Oh yeah, and any computer on earth could be a vector of attack and everything from foreign intelligence agencies to corrupt politicians to radical political groups to greedy businesses might have a motive.

    Why are we even discussing this as a possibility?

  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @10:27PM (#33803256)
    There were no reports of fraud whatsoever

  • Re:GNU Free (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Albanach (527650) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @10:38PM (#33803328) Homepage

    It wouldn't be hard

    It's thoughts like those that land coders in trouble.

    We have an expert on the record saying it's very very hard, and an AC posting saying the opposite. Who to trust???

    What if there's a flaw in the smart card hardware that allowed votes cast to be transmitted differently? What if the master key were to be exposed and someone launched a MITM attack? What if there's an exploitable flaw in the operating system of the server collecting or collating the votes?

    You have a solution to just one tiny part of the giant jigsaw puzzle. Still think it wouldn't be hard?

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @10:53PM (#33803458) Homepage

    Voting machines should definitely be electronic.

    Why? What exactly do electronic voting machines give you that, say, an optical scan paper ballot doesn't? Electronic voting has more often than not been a solution in search of a problem.

  • by NatasRevol (731260) on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @10:58PM (#33803488) Journal

    Trivial? Yeah right. And you wonder why other moderators are rating you flamebait.

    Online voting is not trivial for one reason. Security from vote tampering.

    If you can get 300 million people to vote online, without vote tampering up to and including hacking 'your' system, then you're a hero.

    But you're not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 05, 2010 @11:06PM (#33803554)

    I can check my bank accounts online.
    I can pay my bills online.
    I can order almost anything imaginable online.
    I can participate in auctions online.
    I can date online.
    I can gamble online.
    I can see my credit reports online.
    I can file my taxes online.

    Why is voting so different?

  • by mhotchin (791085) <[slashdot] [at] []> on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @12:11AM (#33804174)
    Because these other endevours do not require anonymity.

    Voter coersion is a real problem.
  • Re:GNU Free (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @04:14AM (#33805438) Journal
    A lot of them miss out another important requirement for elections and voting systems, at least in actual democracies.

    Requirement #0: Convincing enough of the losers that they've lost.

    Doesn't matter if your fancy system is actually secure and proven. If the losers think they lost because "too much magic" happened, you could have riots on the streets or even civil war.

    While paper votes have problems, they are easier to explain to voters. And if you do them right, the losers tend to agree with the results- they might dispute with a few problem constituencies, but you won't get massive riots.

    You get riots when you do them wrong e.g. having one party do the counting in secret. And riots might even be justified or at least understandable since since having just one party count paper votes secretly is rather fishy.

    In my country I think they rig it with postal votes. The counting is done in front of various observers from different political parties and a few 3rd parties even.

    So where they can rig it is with postal votes, or in places which are more obscure - nobody bothers to show up to watch the counts, ballot boxes etc (but those places often don't make much of a difference ;) ). So that puts a limit to the cheating - so when enough voters get pissed off enough with you, despite your efforts you can still lose the elections - there are just so many postal votes to go around.

    Whereas most electronic voting systems tend to do their counts in a way that cannot be observed by others. There's too much magic :).

    And all for what? Make things faster? You want to do it right, take the time and money to do it right. What's so hard about scaling? Your education system should be good enough so that you have enough volunteer counters who can actually count.

    I find it funny that the US spends billions to supposedly hold elections in Iraq (regime change right? ;)), and they can't seem to be able to do it right at home... With Diebolded elections and all that.

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