Diebold Keys

From the Freedom to Tinker Blog we have a story touching on something that I have been freaking out on for years: Diebold. Why our Democracy should be reduced to trust for the contents of a black box I have no idea. It is amongst the most dire threats to our democratic republic.

Like other computer scientists who have studied Diebold voting machines, we were surprised at the apparent carelessness of DieboldÂ’s security design. It can be hard to convey this to nonexperts, because the examples are technical. To security practitioners, the use of a fixed, unchangeable encryption key and the blind acceptance of every software update offered on removable storage are rookie mistakes; but nonexperts have trouble appreciating this. Here is an example that anybody, expert or not, can appreciate:

The access panel door on a Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machine — the door that protects the memory card that stores the votes, and is the main barrier to the injection of a virus — can be opened with a standard key that is widely available on the Internet.

Yes, the security on the Diebold AccuVote system is reducible to the availability of a standard-issue hotel minibar key. That, as we say in the crypto field, is provably weak security. These machines need to be gone. There is no excuse for entrusting our Democracy to black boxes.

The fact that Diebold machines ever made it to the bigtime is illustrative of a troubling principle I see in our society. There is a strong compulsion to trust, and I'm not a big fan of trust. Human nature hasn't changed since the time of the Bible, so I know that power corrupts and am therefore distrustful of anyone that possesses a modicum of power. Of course, that distrust doesn't stop me from doing a good deal of business with them - it just prevents me from trusting them like I would my mother or father. Society at large doesn't have this same distrust, however. Over and over again, we are told to trust, but not verify the government. With warrantless eavesdropping we are told to trust that it not being abused. With the unregulated use of War Powers against U.S. citizens we are told to trust that internment camps aren't around the corner. And with Diebold voting, we are told to trust that the magical black box in front of us will faithfully count your vote. The populace trusts, and that puts our Republic at risk again and again. If people would read more of the founding fathers, they would come to realize that America is a nation of radicals, and that blind trust of authority is antithetical to that radicalism that has made us so great.

From Jefferson, this sums it up:
In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

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