Sunday, September 12, 2004

Insecure vote tabulators

Whoa. I'd heard all about security problems with touch-screen voting machine to used this fall, but not problems with the central tabulating machines:
The GEMS program runs on a Microsoft Access database. It typically recieves incoming votes by modem, though some counties follow better security by disconnecting modems and bringing votes in physically.

GEMS stores the votes in a vote ledger, built in Microsoft Access. Any properly designed accounting program will allow only one set of books. You can't enter your expense report in three different places. All data must be drawn from the same place, and multiple versions are never acceptable. But in the files we examined, we found that the GEMS system contained three sets of "books."

The elections official never sees the different sets of books. All she sees is the reports she can run: Election summary (totals, county wide) or a "Statement of Votes Cast" (totals for each precinct). She has no way of knowing that her GEMS system uses a different set of data for the detail report (used to spot check) than it does for the election totals. The Access database, which contains the hidden set of votes, can't be seen unless you know how to get in the back door -- which takes only seconds.

Ask an accountant: It is never appropriate to have two sets of books inside accounting software. It is possible to do computer programming to create two sets of books, but dual sets of books are prohibited in accounting, for this simple reason: Two sets of books can easily allow fraud to go undetected. Especially if the two sets are hidden from the user.
...
Black Box Voting has traced the implementation of the double set of books to Oct. 13, 2000, shortly after embezzler Jeffrey Dean became the senior programmer. Dean was hired as Vice President of Research and Development in September 2000, and his access to the programs is well documented through internal memos from Diebold. The double set of books appeared in GEMS version 1.17.7.
...
So now we have someone who's admitted that he's been blackmailed over killing someone, who pleaded guilty to 23 counts of embezzlement, who is given the position of senior programmer over the GEMS central tabulator system that counts approximately 50 percent of the votes in the election, in 30 states, both paper ballot and touch screen. [emphasis mine]

And just after he is hired, multiple sets of books appear in GEMS, which can be decoupled, so that they don't need to match, by typing in a secret 2-digit code in a specific location.
This is really a case where you want to read the whole thing.

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