D.C. Web voting flaw could have led to compromised ballots
Flaw in Digital Vote by Mail system let ballots be accessed, modified, replaced
Computerworld - A major security flaw in D.C.'s new Digital Vote by Mail system allowed researchers to access, modify and completely replace marked ballots in the system.
The flaw was discovered by security researchers at the University of Michigan during public tests of the system last week, a discovery that prompted election officials in the District of Columbia to scale back their use of a Web application for overseas voters in next month's elections.
The ability to change ballots was one among several issues discovered during the tests, which are scheduled to go on until the end of this week.
According to Alex Halderman, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, the flaw allowed the researchers to access the database username and password and the public key used to encrypt ballots. In addition, researchers found they could install a backdoor on the server for viewing and recording votes and the names of those who cast them, Halderman said in a blog post yesterday.
To show they had complete control of the system, the researchers even tweaked the application so that voters would be greeted with the University of Michigan fight song when they landed on the vote confirmation page.
Halderman described the vulnerability as a shell injection flaw in the ballot upload function. "If this particular problem had not existed, I'm confident that we would have found another way to attack the system," he wrote.
D.C.'s new Digital Vote by Mail system is designed to let military personnel and U.S. civilians who are overseas to receive and cast ballots over the Web using a previously provided PIN to authenticate themselves.
The system is designed to let voters print out a ballot from the Web, fill it out and send it back to their precincts via postal mail. It also allows overseas voters to send a copy of their marked ballot back via e-mail or fax.
A third option would have allowed them to use the Web application to digitally mark the ballot before sending it back in encrypted fashion to election officials in their precincts via the Web.
Following the discovery of the security flaws, officials at D.C.'s Board of Elections and Ethics announced this week that they will not allow voters to use Digital Vote by Mail to send back ballots. While voters can still download ballots via the application, they will need to choose one of the other options to send it back.
Paul Stenbjorn, director of information service for the board, today said that the decision means the most controversial portion of the system will not be used in upcoming elections. Given that election day -- Nov. 2 -- is now less than four weeks away, the board has decided not to allow digital ballot return.
"We have redeployed the public testing, but it is only for the non-controversial half, where voters can download blank ballots," he said. Stenbjorn went on to say that the public testing is being done precisely to uncover the kinds of issues discovered by the researchers.
The system will be available for more testing after this year's elections to weed out all issues and correct them, he said. "Hopefully they can tell us not only what is wrong but help" fix the problems, he said.
D.C.'s Digital Vote by Mail system is one of many that are being implemented around the country in response to the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009. It is the first, though, to be based entirely on open-source technology.
Digital Vote by Mail is based on software from the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation, a group developing voting systems based on open-source technology. It's written using the Ruby on Rails framework and runs on an Apache Web server and MYSQL database, according to Halderman.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.
- 18 Hot IT Certifications for 2014
- CIOs Opting for IT Contractors Over Hiring Full-Time Staff
- 12 Best Free iOS 7 Holiday Shopping Apps
- For CMOs Big Data Can Lead to Big Profits
- Slideshow: 5 ways to lock down your mobile device
- Slideshow: 10 mistakes companies make after a data breach
- How to rob a bank: A social engineering walk through
- Which smartphone is the most secure?
If you think getting it right from day one is always what matters, you probably haven't been following technology too closely.
- IT Certification Study Tips
- Register for this Computerworld Insider Study Tip guide and gain access to hundreds of premium content articles, cheat sheets, product reviews and more.
- Bring Networks and Applications Closer--Cisco ONE
- A series of sweeping trends is placing new requirements on the tried-and-true network model--requiring network infrastructure and applications to communicate. Get the open...
- Lippis Research Reviews the Cisco Catalyst 2960-X
- In this Lippis Report Research Note, Lippis Research reviews the latest edition of the "most popular access switch on the planet" -- the...
- Design Guide--Scaling Up to a Campus-Wide LAN
- Is it time to scale your network environment to a campus wired LAN? Here's the framework you need to set up your LAN...
- Comprehensive Security: Cisco Catalyst 2960 Series
- With a rich and comprehensive set of security features, Cisco Catalyst 2960-X and 2960-XR Series Switches can help you address networking megatrends such...
- Be Energy Efficient--The Cisco Catalyst 2960 Series
- How much energy could be saved if all 230 million Layer 2 and 3 fixed managed switch ports sold in 2012 were as... All Government IT White Papers
- Modernizing SAP environments with minimum risk - a path to Big Data Hear from top IDC analyst, Richard Villars, about the path you can start taking now to enable your organization to get the benefits...
- Vblock™ Specialized System for SAP HANA® Overview video from DJ Long about the new Vblock Specialized System for SAP HANA®.
- The Power of the Citrix Mobility Solution, XenMobile Does everything become a smartphone? Or does the smartphone begin to do everything? How can we afford to support BYOD? Rather, how can...
- BYOD Happens: How to Secure Mobility How to navigate the journey of securing mobility, including the BYOD corruption of IT, the top ten mobility strategies, and the mobility management...
- Fighting Fraud Videos: IBM Intelligent Investigation Manager Short videos about IBM Intelligent Investigation Manager (IIM) for Fraud. IIM optimizes the investigation of fraud for customers across many industries in both...
- All Government IT Webcasts
Does your organization offer extensive benefits, cool perks, competitive salaries, opportunities for training and advancement? Then get it recognized!
Nominate your company or another deserving organization for Computerworld's 2014 Best Places to Work in IT list now through Dec. 20, 2013.