Is the Path to Secure Elections Paved With Open Source Code?

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Elevated use of open supply software program might fortify U.S. election system safety, in keeping with an op-ed revealed final week in The New York Occasions.

Former CIA head R. James Woolsey and Bash creator Brian J. Fox made their case for open supply elections software program after safety researchers demonstrated how straightforward it was to crack some election machines within the Voting Machine Hacking Village staged on the latest DefCon hacking convention in Las Vegas.

“Regardless of its title, open-source software program is much less susceptible to hacking than the key, black field programs like these being utilized in polling locations now,” Woolsey and Fox wrote.

“That’s as a result of anybody can see how open-source programs function,” they defined. “Bugs might be noticed and remedied, deterring those that would try assaults.”

Open supply software program has confirmed to be so dependable and safe that it’s being utilized by the U.S. Protection Division, NASA and the U.S. Air Pressure, famous Woolsey and Fox.

Microsoft Resistance

Regardless of the advantages of open supply software program, Microsoft and different corporations promoting proprietary voting programs have lobbied aggressively in opposition to transferring to open supply, Woolsey and Fox contended.

“If the neighborhood of proprietary distributors, together with Microsoft, would assist using open-source mannequin for elections, we might expedite progress towards safe voting programs,” they urged.

Microsoft didn’t reply to our request to remark for this story.

“There’s a task for proprietary software program,” stated Lawrence Rosen, an mental property legal professional with Rosenlaw & Einschlag and former common counsel for the Open Supply Initiative.

“The whole lot doesn’t must be open supply,” he advised LinuxInsider, “however once we’re speaking about elections software program that requires the boldness of the voters, that’s totally different from whether or not my automotive radio is proprietary or open.”

Cracking Fest

Woolsey and Fox’s Occasions piece was notably well timed, coming because it did on the heels of the cracking fest on the Voting Machine Hacking Village.

“They confirmed what we already knew,” stated James Scott, a senior fellow on the Institute for Vital Infrastructure Know-how. “These are extraordinarily susceptible machines.”

“Consider what a voting machine is,” he advised LinuxInsider. “It’s a Eighties PC with zero endpoint safety in a black field the place the code is proprietary and might’t be analyzed.”

Though the researchers at DefCon impressed the press once they bodily hacked the voting machines within the village, there are more practical methods to crack an election system.

“The simplest approach to hack an election machine is to poison the replace on the replace server on the producer degree earlier than the election,” Scott defined. “Then the producer distributes your payload to all its machines for you.”

Safety Via Obscurity

Advocates for open supply elections software program argue that extra transparency is required within the programs.

“With closed supply programs, you actually do not know what they’re doing,” stated Nicko van Someren, govt director for the core infrastructure initiative at The Linux Basis.

“Diligent states will do some type of auditing of their very own, however we all know from historical past that any type of safety audit on any type of code seldom reveals up all the pieces,” he advised LinuxInsider.

“The extra folks you will have inspecting the code, the extra vulnerabilities you’re more likely to discover,” van Someren added.

Though largely discredited, a perception persists that holding supply code secret is safer than open sourcing code.

“That’s wrong-minded,” van Someren stated. “In observe, hackers can have a look at binaries and nonetheless discover vulnerabilities.”

Nonetheless, an ostrich perspective about safety nonetheless prevails at some companies, in keeping with Brian Knopf, senior director of safety analysis at Neustar.

“There are nonetheless some corporations which have the concept that in the event that they bury their head within the sand, if I ignore everybody else and don’t present entry, then nobody will discover something,” he advised LinuxInsider. “Clearly, that’s not the reality.”

Can’t Hack Paper

If elections programs makers aren’t keen to go the open supply route, they at the very least have to open their code to knowledgeable eyes outdoors their organizations, maintained Mark Graff, CEO of Tellagraff.

“The supply may very well be positioned in escrow so an knowledgeable panel might have a look at it,” he advised LinuxInsider, ” however I don’t assume that’s labored prior to now, and I don’t know if you happen to might line up the industrial pursuits to conform to do what the consultants say.”

A less complicated resolution to the safety downside includes paper ballots and post-election poll auditing, stated Barbara Simons, president of VerifiedVoting.

After all of the votes are solid, a sampling of paper ballots could be in contrast manually to the digital tally to find out the accuracy of the vote.

“Open supply is nice factor — we assist it — however there are at all times bugs that aren’t going to be caught,” Simons advised LinuxInsider.

“What we’d like are paper ballots and guide post-election poll audits,” she stated.

“If we’ve got these, even with proprietary software program, we will defend our election from being hacked,” Simons maintained. “You’ll be able to’t hack paper.”

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