Friday, August 14, 2015

Security flaws in Buenos Aires’ Unique Electronic Ballot

Citizens welcomed the introduction and use of technology. The results were tabulated, processed and reported far more quickly than if the polls had been counted up in a manual fashion. However, not all was well. It was revealed by computer programmer Joaquin Sorianello that the electronic voting system provided by MSA and used in the Buenos Aires election had as security flaw. According to the site boing boing, “The system's cryptographic certificates are easy to extract, creating an easy route to manufacturing fake voting totals or simply overwhelming the service”.

Despite being “only” a programmer with no ill will and no intention to hack into the election system for fraudulent purposes, Joaquin Sorianello was raided by the local Argentine police. All of his computer equipment and storage devices were confiscated in the raid after he alerted MSA of the fatal flaw. The revelation that the SSL certificates were being held on an unsecured server did not come to light until 10 days after the election had concluded.

"If I wanted to hack or do something harmful, Sorianello told La Nacion, “I would not have told the company.”

This latest episode in Argentina clearly illustrates a powerful lesson for the implementation of electronic voting technology in a modern democracy. Security cannot be sacrificed in the name of convenience. It is important for the electoral commissions of the world to work only with trusted vendors with strong track records for security, transparency, and privacy.

Technology played a very prominent role in last year's general election in Brazil and the government there strove to provide the highest level of security possible with its e-voting efforts. Similarly, Russian officials were able to stave off attacks on its e-voting system. While it is impossible to protect against all attacks from all directions, due diligence must be conducted to reveal and solve any security flaws in the e-voting infrastructure well ahead of a general election. Having a strong audit system in place for before, during and after an election is a good start.

It may be true that a more complex system can be more difficult to manage and it may prove to be detrimental to providing greater universal access for citizens wishing to exercise their democratic right. However, if the system is not adequately secure, accurate and reliable, no level of convenience will matter.