CERT advisory on Diebold tabulator GEMS

From: Fred McLain <mclain_at_zipcon_dot_net>
Date: Fri Sep 16 2005 - 17:21:14 CDT

I noticed this piece in the BradBlog today and confirmed that there is a
CERT Cyber Security Bulletin about a back door on the Diebold tabulator
that allows for vote count changes.

Here's the alert from 2004:

"A vulnerability exists due to an undocumented backdoor account, which
could a local or remote authenticated malicious user modify votes.

No workaround or patch available at time of publishing.

We are not aware of any exploits for this vulnerability."

Notably it's credited as being from Black Box Voting. I wonder how I
missed this one.

Here's the original Brad Blog piece:



DIEB-THROAT : 'Diebold System One of Greatest Threats Democracy Has Ever
Identifies U.S. Homeland Security 'Cyber Alert' Prior to '04 Election
Warning Votes Can be 'Modified Remotely' via 'Undocumented Backdoor' in
Central Tabulator Software!

In exclusive stunning admissions to The BRAD BLOG some 11 months after
the 2004 Presidential Election, a "Diebold Insider" is now finally
speaking out for the first time about the...

In exclusive stunning admissions to The BRAD BLOG some 11 months after
the 2004 Presidential Election, a "Diebold Insider" is now finally
speaking out for the first time about the alarming security flaws within
Diebold, Inc's electronic voting systems, software and machinery. The
source is acknowledging that the company's "upper management" -- as well
as "top government officials" -- were keenly aware of the "undocumented
backdoor" in Diebold's main "GEM Central Tabulator" software well prior
to the 2004 election. A branch of the Federal Government even posted a
security warning on the Internet.

Pointing to a little-noticed "Cyber Security Alert" issued by the United
States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), a division of the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the source inside Diebold -- who
"for the time being" is requesting anonymity due to a continuing
sensitive relationship with the company -- is charging that Diebold's
technicians, including at least one of its lead programmers, knew about
the security flaw and that the company instructed them to keep quiet
about it.

"Diebold threatened violators with immediate dismissal," the insider,
who we'll call DIEB-THROAT, explained recently to The BRAD BLOG via
email. "In 2005, after one newly hired member of Diebold's technical
staff pointed out the security flaw, he was criticized and isolated."

In phone interviews, DIEB-THROAT confirmed that the matters were well
known within the company, but that a "culture of fear" had been
developed to assure that employees, including technicians, vendors and
programmers kept those issues to themselves.

The "Cyber Security Alert" from US-CERT was issued in late August of
2004 and is still available online via the US-CERT website. The alert
warns that "A vulnerability exists due to an undocumented backdoor
account, which could [sic: allow] a local or remote authenticated
malicious user [sic: to] modify votes."

The alert, assessed to be of "MEDIUM" risk on the US-CERT security
bulletin, goes on to add that there is "No workaround or patch available
at time of publishing."

"Diebold's upper management was aware of access to the voter file defect
before the 2004 election - but did nothing to correct it," the source

A "MEDIUM" risk vulnerability cyber alert is described on the US-CERT
site as: "one that will allow an intruder immediate access to a system
with less than privileged access. Such vulnerability will allow the
intruder the opportunity to continue the attempt to gain privileged
access. An example of medium-risk vulnerability is a server
configuration error that allows an intruder to capture the password

DIEB-THROAT claims that, though the Federal Government knew about this
documented flaw, originally discovered and reported by
BlackBoxVoting.org in August of 2004, they did nothing about it.

"I believe that top Government officials had an understanding with top
Diebold officials to look the other way," the source explained, "because
Diebold was their ace in the hole."

But even DIEB-THROAT -- who says "we were brainwashed" by the company to
believe such concerns about security were nonsense -- was surprised to
learn that an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was well
aware of this flaw, and concerned enough about it to issue a public
alert prior to the election last year.

"I was aware of the Diebold security flaw and had heard about the
Homeland Security Cyber Alert Threat Assessment website, so I went there
and 'bingo,' there it was in black and white," the source wrote. "It
blew me away because it showed that DHS, headed by a Cabinet level
George Bush loyalist, was very aware of the 'threat' of someone changing
votes in the Diebold Central Tabulator. The question is, why wasn't
something done about it before the election?"

The CEO of North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold, Inc., Walden O'Dell has
been oft-quoted for his 2003 Republican fund-raiser promise to help
"Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." O'Dell
himself was a high-level contributor to the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign as
well as many other Republican causes.

"A very serious problem...one malicious person can change the outcome of
any Diebold election"

The voting company insider, who has also served as a spokesperson for
the company in various capacities over recent years, admits that the
"real danger" of this security vulnerability could have easily been
exploited by a malicious user or an insider through remote access.

"I have seen these systems connected to phone lines dozens of times with
users gaining remote access," said DIEB-THROAT. "What I think we have
here is a very serious problem. Remote access using phone lines
eliminates any need for a conspiracy of hundreds to alter the outcome of
an election. Diebold has held onto this theory [publicly] for years, but
Diebold has lied and has put national elections at risk. Remote access
using this backdoor means that one malicious person can change the
outcome of any Diebold election."

The ability to connect to the system remotely by phone lines and the
apparent lack of interest by Diebold to correct the serious security
issue in a timely manner -- or at all -- would seem to be at odds with
at least one of their Press Releases touting their voting hardware and

In an October 31, 2003 Press Release as part of a publicity blitz to
"sell" the new voting machines to the voters in the state of Maryland,
Diebold Election Systems President Thomas W. Swidarski is quoted as
follows in a section titled "Security Is Key":

Diebold has fine-tuned its computerized system so that it meets
stringent security requirements. “We have independent verification that
the Diebold voting system provides an unprecedented level of election
security. This is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the entire
voting process,” Swidarski added.

Attempts by The BRAD BLOG to get comment from Swidarski were passed to
one of the Vice-Presidents at Diebold who has not returned our voice
mail message.

We did, however, hear back from Diebold Spokesperson David Bear of the
PR firm Public Strategies. He was referred to us by several different
Diebold offices as "the man to discuss voting machine issues with."

Bear claimed to have never heard of the Cyber Alert issued by US-CERT
and when told of it, refused to acknowledge it as anything more than "an
unverified allegation."

"One of the greatest threats our democracy has ever known"

Our source expressed emphatically that future democratic elections in
the United States are at stake and feels that the problem will not be
corrected until Congressional action forces the company to do so.

"In my opinion Diebold's election system is one of the greatest threats
our democracy has ever known, and the only way this will be exposed is
with a Congressional investigation with subpoenas of not just Diebold
officials but Diebold technicians."

If our experience in discussing the matter with Bear, the man Diebold
referred us to for all matters concerning voting machines, is any
indication, then DIEB-THROAT may be correct. Even a Cyber Alert Bulletin
issued by an official arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
more than a year ago was not enough to phase Diebold. At least not
enough to even inform their public spokesperson about the matter,

"I don't know anything about it," Bear claimed when we asked about the
Cyber Alert, and he refused to acknowledge there were anysecurity
concerns about Diebold's Voting Machines or its GEMS Central Tabulator

Over and over, by rote, he repeated in response to our questions: "The
GEMS software has been used in hundreds of elections and there's never
been a security issue."

Bear says that "Diebold machines have never lost a single vote," but
beyond that could not speak to the vulnerability issue since, he said,
"I don't know what vulnerability they're referencing."

We sent the link to the US-CERT Cyber Alert to Bear, but have not yet
heard back from about it. He did, however, send us a copy of the
well-worn Caltech/Massachusetts Institute of Technology report [PDF]
analyzing the 2004 Presidential Election which, Bear pointed out in his
Email, "concludes that the most improvement [in vote-counting and
integrity over 2000] occurred when counties/states changed to touch
screen systems."

DIEB-THROAT was taken aback, but not wholly surprised, when we shared
the comments from Bear denying knowledge of the "backdoor" security
vulnerability in the GEMS software and his contention that there was
nothing more than "allegations."

The vulnerability, and the ability to "manipulate votes" occurs because
the GEMS software uses the public Microsoft Access database software to
store vote totals in a separate data file. And, as DIEB-THROAT
explained, Access is "full of holes. There are so many ways to get into

Because GEMS uses the Access database, "you can enter and manipulate the
file without even entering into GEMS," our source said in response ot
Bear's denials.

"GEMS sits on top of this database and it pretty much feeds information
down to the database from GEMS. It's almost like you're on the first
floor of your house and all of your operating equipment is in the
basement so that anything that happens on the first floor ends up
downstairs. Well, downstairs has a wide open door to it. So we're
dumping all the votes downstairs and that's wide open to the rest of the
computer system."

"A culture of fear"

In trying to understand why the U.S. Homeland Security Department's
Cyber Alert didn't force Diebold to make fixes, patches or corrections
quickly available for their software prior to -- or even since -- the
'04 election, DIEB-THROAT repeated over and over that Diebold was simply
"not concerned about security".

"They don't have security solutions. They don't want them...They leave
security policy issues up to the states. They've known about this for
some time. They don't really care," the source said, comparing the
security flaw to "leaving the front door at Fort Knox open." It's just
"blatant sloppiness and they don't care."

The versions of the GEMS Central Tabulation software listed on the
US-CERT site are 1.17.7 and 1.18 and DIEB-THROAT says the same versions
of the same software are still in use by States around the country and
haven't had any fixes or patches applied to correct the problem.

Diebold spokesman, Bear, was unable to confirm whether or not Diebold
had updated its GEMS software in any way since the US-CERT Cyber Alert
was released telling us only that "There's different versions of the
software for different needs" and that he didn't know if patches, fixes
or corrections were ever released by the company.

"There's always an evolution," Bear said. "Before any software can be
used it's federally qualified and then certified by the states...Where
different versions are running, I just don't know."

"They're still at that same version number," DIEB-THROAT said. "A lot of
our customers still have it and there's not been any patch....They
really don't care about this sort of thing. They really don't. People
may find it hard to believe...in other words [the company says] 'we'll
give you a machine to vote on and the rest is up to you."

"This is a very profit motivated company," the source continued, "they
don't care what happens after the sale. Once they have the contract
they've got the customer tied up pretty good."

Initially DIEB-THROAT claims to have been "brainwashed" by the pervasive
"company line" at Diebold, that all of the talk about security concerns
and the possibility that someone could hack the vote was the talk of
"conspiracy theorists". Apparently that was -- and is still is -- "the
company line." But after one of Diebold's head technicians who works out
of their McKinney, Texas facility confirmed the gaping security hole in
the software to our source, it was understood that these concerns were
for real.

"Up until his confirmation, I had heard it through the grapevine, as
rumors and such, but he confirmed it for me. The lead technician who
worked on the software, who has a Phd in mathematics and so forth, was
saying that 'this problem exists!'"

So why hasn't that technician, or anyone else from within the company
spoken out until now?

"This is a culture of fear. Really. Only because we were good friends
did [the head technician] confide in me that these were problems that
needed to be fixed," DIEB-THROAT said.

"They all knew..."

In regards to possible remote access to the GEMS Central Tabulator by
modem via phone lines, a way that hackers could easily and simply change
the vote total information in the Access database, Diebold's official
spokesman seemed to be similarly in denial even today.

When we asked Bear whether or not the Central Tabulator is still
accessible via modem in their machines, he first denied that it's even
possible, telling us "the Central Tabulator isn't accessable via modem."

When we pressed about whether or not there are still modem capabilities
in the machines and software they sell, Bear admitted, "There is a modem
capability, but it's up to a jurisdiction whether they wish to use it or
not...I don't know of any jurisdiction that does that."

"Oh, boy. Such lies," DIEB-THROAT said in response. "There are several
jurisdications that use [the modem capabilities] in the
machines...Probably one of the most robust users of modems is Prince
Georges County in Maryland. They've used it in every election. I believe
they started in 2000. And Baltimore County used them in the November
election in 2004. Fulton County and Dekalb County in Georgia may have
used them in 2004 as well."

While we were unable to hear back in response to messages left with
Election Officials at several of those offices prior to the publication
of this article, a review of "Lessons Learned" after the November 2004
Election conducted by the Maryland state Board of Elections obtained by
The BRAD BLOG, confirms that modems were used to access the GEMS Central
Tabulator to send in information from precincts on Election Night.

We are still reviewing the complete document, but amongst the findings
in the report is that "the GEMS system froze several times during heavy
modem transmitting periods requiring the system to be rebooted, which
generated delays and prohibited BOE from receiving polling places'

As well, the report concludes, "Modem lines testing in polling place
still problematic; need better coordination with school system."

It also says that "7% of voting units deployed failed on Election Day"
and that an additional 5% "were suspect based on the number of votes
captured." The BRAD BLOG hopes to have a follow-up article in the coming
days which looks in more detail at the full Maryland state Board of
Elections report and the alarming rate of failure for Diebold
Touch-Screen voting machines.

When we asked our source if they had any evidence to show that the
security flaw described by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security was
actually exploited in the 2004 election, DIEB-THROAT told us only: "I
wouldn't say I have evidence that it was exploited....only that it was
known. To the feds, to state officials and to Diebold. They all knew. In
spite of the gap they moved forward as normal...As if it didn't exist."


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Received on Mon Oct 31 23:17:03 2005

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