Saturday, July 28, 2007

Red Team Report

There was lots of election news today, as the California Secretary of State announced the results of a critical new study of the three electronic voting systems currently used in the state that was conducted by experts on computer security and election tampering from the University of California. Last year, Ed Felten's Princeton team hacked a Diebold voting machine and posted video of their procedures on the Internet. In this year's U.C. Top to Bottom Review, exploitable vulnerabilities were found in both the hardware and the software of all three companies that contract with the state.

Rhetorically, I thought it was interesting to see in the actual document how the principal investigator, Matt Bishop, spent time defining discipline-specific terms like "red team" right on the first page:

A red team study, also called a penetration study, examines a system from the point of view of an attacker, and analyzes the system to determine how secure it is against an attack.

Bishop also anticipated the objections from manufacturers that there were "policies, procedures,
and laws intended to compensate for any technological shortcomings" by considering all the possible social actors who could have malevolent intentions: "voters, poll workers, election officials, vendor employees, and others with varying degrees of access." Bishop explains the rationale of the red teams' methodology as follows:

In developing attack scenarios, the red teams made no assumptions about constraints on the attackers. We recommend that future Red Teams should adopt a similar attitude.
The testers did not evaluate the likelihood of any attack being feasible. Instead, they described the conditions necessary for an attacker to succeed.

In attempting to rebut the study in statements for "3 Voting Systems Faulted" in today's Los Angeles Times, proponents for the manufacturers criticize the "laboratory" conditions of Bishop's study. The point to the policing power of election officials as a deterrent to fraud in the non-hermetically sealed environment of the polling place. Unfortunately, I've been an election official and know how easy it is for belligerent voters or would-be voters to create a distraction that occupies the entire contingent of poll-workers, who must work very long hours with little training, so I think the study should be taken very seriously by policy makers.

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