A review of Diebold’s source code has revealed that Diebold Election Systems voting machines are not exactly secure enough to ensure a reliable election. In fact an attacker who gains access to even one single machine can go ahead and disturb or alter the outcome of an election with the help of viruses.
The University of California at Berkeley report, commissioned by the California Secretary of State stated: “The software contains serious design flaws that have led directly to specific vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit to affect election outcomes.” The report is issued as part of a two-month “top-to-bottom” review of electronic voting systems certified for use in California.
When an assessment of Diebold’s source code was performed, it showed that an attacked required merely limited access to negotiate an election.
“An attack could plausibly be accomplished by a single skilled individual with temporary access to a single voting machine. The damage could be extensive — malicious code could spread to every voting machine in polling places and to county election servers,” it said.
The report, titled “Source Code Review of the Diebold Voting System,” was reportedly released on Thursday, exactly one day before California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is to decide which machines are certified for use in California’s 2008 presidential primary elections.
Four chief weaknesses were detected in the Diebold software, by the source-code review. Firstly, flaws that make it possible for an attacker to install malware on the machines; secondly a failure to make certain the secrecy of ballots. Next is a lack of controls to prevent election workers from tampering with ballots and results; and finally it’s the vulnerability to viruses that could enable attackers to an influence an election.
“A virus could allow an attacker who only had access to a few machines or memory cards, or possibly to only one, to spread malicious software to most, if not all, of a county’s voting machines,” the report mentioned. “Thus, large-scale election fraud in the Diebold system does not necessarily require physical access to a large number of voting machines.”
In the report there was a warning stating that a paper trail of votes cast is not enough to make certain the reliability of an election using the machines. “Malicious code might be able to subtly influence close elections, and it could disrupt elections by causing widespread equipment failure on election day,” it said.
Further more, the source-code review went on to warn that commercial antivirus scanners do not offer adequate protection for the voting machines. “They are not designed to detect virally propagating malicious code that targets voting equipment and voting software,” it said.
Bringing it to a close, the report maintained that Diebold’s voting machines had not been designed keeping in mind to make security its priority. “For this reason, the safest way to repair the Diebold system is to reengineer it so that it is secure by design,” it said.
The Diebold source-code review and various other documents, including a review of source code used in other voting systems, had earlier been withdrawn from release by the Secretary of State, even as other reports related to the review of voting machines were released on July 27.
On July 27, the Secretary of State’s website maintained that the source-code review and other reports had been submitted on time. “Their reports will be posted as soon as the Secretary of State ensures the reports do not inadvertently disclose security-sensitive information,” the website said.
The source-code review release was delayed thanks to David Wagner, an associate professor of computer science at the University of California at Berkeley and an author of the report, who was unable to put forth present his findings at a public hearing held on July 30 to discuss the results of the voting system review.
Secretary of State Kurt Browning has asked Diebold Elections Systems to address the problems by August 17th. He is positive that the company will do so before next year’s primary election. According to a company spokes the deadline will be met.