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Auditor's Report Criticizes Florida's Voter Database

State agrees to fix security woes that could lead to unauthorized access

By Marc L. Songini
June 26, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Florida voter registration data can be vulnerable to theft, corruption, unauthorized access and alteration, despite the best efforts of elections officials, indicated a report by the Florida auditor general.

The report, released earlier this month by Auditor General William Monroe, found several IT security problems with the state's central voter registration database. "There were some procedures that were missing we felt needed to be in place," noted Jon Ingram, an IT audit manager in the Florida auditor general's office and a contributor to the report.

For instance, Ingram noted that the review of the system found that a state worker was erroneously given access to the database and that a worker whose contract was finished mistakenly retained access.

The Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) database was created by Secretary of State Sue Cobb's office to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. HAVA mandates that every state create a centralized voter information repository to, among other things, protect against election fraud. Work on the project started in 2003, and the database was rolled out in January.

The auditor's report recommends that Cobb's office create a set of security procedures to help county elections officials ensure that FVRS data is protected from unauthorized access. The report also calls on the state to establish virus-protection, patch management, maintenance and system recovery policies.

"A critical system could be secure today and vulnerable tomorrow because of software changes, and the vulnerability goes down even to the workstation level, which could have an impact on the whole network," said Ingram.

Dawn Roberts, head of the Florida Division of Elections, said that the report shouldn't cause undue concern among the state's voters. She noted that the division requested the audit to help ensure the system's security. "There's nothing in the audit to suggest that FVRS is compromised," she noted.

Roberts added that a risk-assessment effort is slated to be completed by the end of June and that a governance model is also being developed by her division.

One county elections official said that some of the problems unearthed in the audit may be more serious than state officials believe.

Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho said that the auditor's report indicates "serious problems" with the security and integrity of the system that could take significant time to fix. "The first election is around the corner, and they have not been able to iron the bugs out of this. I'm getting very concerned," Sancho said.

Consultant Paula Hawthorn, a former database executive at Hewlett-Packard Co. and other vendors, said potential security and data-integrity problems with voter registration databases are hardly unique to Florida.

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