Re: confused about COTS vs open hardware

From: Ben Adida <ben_at_eecs_dot_harvard_dot_edu>
Date: Wed Feb 07 2007 - 15:34:00 CST

Richard,

I think you're arguing against points I didn't make. I didn't say that
open-source would make things weaker: I've been an open-source/free
software advocate since I published my first GPL code about 10 years ago
and I understand the benefits well. I didn't say we should immediately
have a 100% open hardware platform, I only questioned the COTS exemption
for software.

If you include "corruption" as part of the threat model---and it seems
you do---then you might get a false sense of security from auditing only
part of the code, while the hidden parts do the damage and override any
security measures taken by the open parts.

Where bugs and unintentional mistakes are concerned, I agree that any
increase in openness is beneficial. When dealing with a malicious
adversary, though, I don't see how partially is any better than fully
closed.

In other words, I don't think this is a case of perfection being the
opposite of the good enough. This is a case where there isn't much
benefit at all from "partially open."

-Ben

Richard C. Johnson wrote:
> Ben,
>
> The goal is to have a completely open hardware and software system with
> the hardware manufactured to Open Specification of parts which
> themselves are in the public domain. No IP anywhere, except under GNU
> license.
>
> That said, we still need to have Open hardware actually assembled. A
> combination of PC/Linux with a scanner would do it. However, at this
> point, both the scanner and the PC remain to be collected, designed,
> integrated, and tested.
>
> Meanwhile, back at the home front, we have election problems that need
> to be solved in order of priority. Bad, corrupt, buggy, and proprietary
> software is a known problem, largely (not 100%) curable with Open Source
> software. To me, as many others, it makes sense to try to fix this
> known and curable problem now, on the way to the ultimate goal of a
> completely open hardware and software system.
>
> Would you have us just wait through two or three more national elections
> until the hardware solution is open and complete? I appreciate purity
> and absolute openness; I am also an engineer and would like to build as
> strong and secure an election structure as we can today with today's
> materials and techniques and then incrementally improve it.
>
> That means an Open Source voting application with as much as possible of
> the firmware done in Open Source. That means paying heed to the need
> for WORM media to transfer both indelible images of ballots and data
> scanned from the ballots. It means using today's technology to build in
> as much security as we can. So, the answer to your question is no, we
> don't weaken anything by using Open Source voting applications. We
> strengthen it. Is it at maximum security and strength? Of course not.
> More remains to be done.
>
> The above is my personal opinion and is a direct answer to the
> proposition that only absolute purity will make any difference at all.
>
> -- Dick
>
> */Ben Adida <ben@eecs.harvard.edu>/* wrote:
>
> Alan Dechert wrote:
> > Yes. I think that's a fair statement.
>
> Okay, so what I'm wondering then is: doesn't that significantly weaken
> the advantages of an open-source voting system? If part of the platform
> is not open, the openness of what's left becomes almost moot.
>
> -Ben
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Received on Wed Feb 28 23:17:11 2007

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