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Computer scientist defends security community stance on e-voting

Aviel Rubin is the professor at the center of the controversy over e-voting security

By Dan Verton
July 21, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- The computer science professor at the center of the controversy over electronic voting system security told members of Congress yesterday that policymakers made "a mistake" by not conferring with security experts about voting system technologies. And he said that using the systems in November without first fixing the security flaws would be "irresponsible."
Aviel Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, defended a series of recent studies that outlined significant security vulnerabilities in the current generation of e-voting systems -- and he criticized policymakers for not requiring security audits sooner. Rubin testified before the House Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census.
"I have been disappointed that the policy community did not reach out to the computer security community when making decisions about voting technology, and when my community came to the table, they said it was too late," said Rubin.
In February, Rubin co-authored a controversial paper that outlined major security vulnerabilities in the software powering e-voting systems developed by Diebold Inc. In addition to Rubin's research, three other independent studies have uncovered similar problems and a host of other issues related to the reliability of most electronic voting systems now in use.
"At this point, the failures of current [direct recording equipment voting systems] have been documented in four major studies by leading computer security experts," said Rubin. "Yet computer security experts, myself included, find ourselves routinely referred to as Luddites and conspiracy theorists."
In May, Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington, Va.-based association of IT vendor companies, labeled Rubin's research "misleading, at best," and compared his testimony at a hearing of the Election Assistance Commission to yelling "fire" in a crowded theater without cause (see story).
But Rubin has refused to back down, telling members of Congress that in a range of terrible to very good security, today's electronic voting systems "are sitting at terrible.
"Not only have the vendors not implemented security safeguards that are possible, they have not even correctly implemented the ones that are easy," said Rubin.
Terry Jarrett, general counsel to Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt, said the public's concern about the security and integrity of the election process is what prompted his state to certify only those e-voting systems that offered a voter-verifiable paper audit trail.
"At this point in time, Secretary Blunt is convinced that a voter-verified paper ballot is the only paper audit trail that can provide voters with a reasonable assurance that their vote will not be lost, destroyed or otherwise not

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