Re: electronically detecting tampering

From: charlie strauss <cems_at_earthlink_dot_net>
Date: Wed Nov 26 2003 - 13:09:38 CST

All this talk of complex crypto I think is just using the wrong hammer on the problem. I'm not against simple cryto like signed md5 hashes and such but I'm afraid we're obfuscating the true issues by worrying about key-control.

As I see it the number one issue is transparency. this means three things to me besides voter-verifiable hard copy ballots.
1) open source
2) A method to know what binary code the machine is actually running
3) human observable chain of custody of all modification to and output from the machine.

two and three are a tricky beast that I dont think any software only solution can solve. A complex hardware solution is the NGSC intel/microsoft (akak Paladium) systems (A solution I loath but would accept). A simple solution is to make the bios dead simple with only two functions: booting off a knopix style cd-rom and logging the checksum of the cdrom on a physically sealed unerasable device. Since the CD-rom could be copied at will it would be possible for any election official to independently validate it's checksum agreed with the published source/binary

Data going out of the machine must also be observable so again it gets written to an unerasable media like a cd-rom which can be copied (on dumb non-computerized machines) at will in the presence of election officials. The disks could even be physically signed by all election judges with a pen if desired.

Here's a low tech non-crypto solution to preventing post-election ballot stuffing and selective ballot losing:

suppose that every time a machine printed out a voter-verifable ballot it also added a bar-code then contained the content of, say, some ten previous ballot chosen at random. If some evil doer were to try to dump some of the ballots in the dumpster you could still recover the entire record from the remaider. The missing ballots would be very obvious. Moreover any attempt to add additional ballots would be foiled unless these were added at the end. And as long as one can keep track of the total number of true ballots one can weed out ones added at the end.

 obviously one could improve on this scheme. I'm just tryng to offer an easy to understand case that crypto discussions are clouding the main issues.

If you want to argue this point I'll trump the issue by saying that there is always the possibility someone could place an easter egg in the software used to compile the source that would inject an evil program into the binary. adding yet another layer to this dicsussion.

-----Original Message-----
From: Clay Lenhart <>
Sent: Nov 26, 2003 11:27 AM
Subject: [voting-project] electronically detecting tampering

I wanted to put on the table what I think is the current best solution for electronically detecting if ballots have been tampered with, and its weaknesses. It is based on David's plan from a number of months ago, except that it uses public/private keys. Please make suggestions, because my feeling is that this is not good enough.

When the machine boots, it generates a public and private key pair. The private key cannot be extracted from the machine. A number of people, independent from the election administration, "publish" the public key so that we are fairly certain that we know which public keys are valid.

Each voter completes a ballot and the ballot is signed with the private key. The ballot has a unique ballot number that is included in the signature to detect duplication of signed ballots.

The ballots and the signatures are uploaded to a central location to count the ballots and verify the signatures. (I know I'm missing some steps, but this is more other people's area)

The ballots and signatures can be downloaded by anyone to verify the electronic signatures.

This scheme will detect if ballots have been updated, but it doesn't *electronically* detect inserts and deletes. As you know "delete + insert = update". If we can prevent inserts of ballots through some process, then the independent group of people can publish the number of voters for a location and this will detect deleted ballots. I.e. if the number of electronic ballots does not match the number of voters, then a percentage of ballots were deleted. There might be a process that can prevent inserts, but I would prefer to detect this electronically somehow, because I can be fairly certain about what happens eletronically, but I won't know if a process was obeyed.

However, since the private keys cannot be extracted from the machines, then someone would have to use the machines to create fake ballots. The insert problem seems somewhat contained.

Another concern: What if the software were modified so that it didn't generate new pub/priv keys, but used a preknown pub/priv key pair and this public key became one of the "valid" public keys? Is there a way to verify the software used at the time of the election, against its source code? Since python runs text files, this seems possible. Then the independent group of people would publish the source code at this time. This is probably a good idea in general b/c it makes the software auditable and we are certain about which code was used by the machines.

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Received on Sun Nov 30 23:17:09 2003

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