Monday, September 18, 2006

A Key

To the Diebold voting machines might just be found in your pocket or in that junk drawer in your kitchen if this post has it right:

Like other computer scientists who have studied Diebold voting machines, we were surprised at the apparent carelessness of Diebold's security design. It can be hard to convey this to nonexperts, because the examples are technical. To security practitioners, the use of a fixed, unchangeable encryption key and the blind acceptance of every software update offered on removable storage are rookie mistakes; but nonexperts have trouble appreciating this. Here is an example that anybody, exp
ert or not, can appreciate:

The access panel door on a Diebold AccuVote-TS voting machine — the door that protects the memory card that stores the votes, and is the main barrier to the injection of a virus — can be opened with a standard key that is widely available on the Internet.

On Wednesday we did a live demo for our Princeton Computer Science colleagues of the vote-stealing software described in our paper and video. Afterward, Chris Tengi, a technical staff member, asked to look at the key that came with the voting machine. He noticed an alphanumeric code printed on the key, and remarked that he had a key at home with the same code on it. The next day he brought in his key and sure enough it opened the voting machine.

This seemed like a freakish coincidence — until we learned how common these keys are.

Chris's key was left over from a previous job, maybe fifteen years ago. He said the key had opened either a file cabinet or the access panel on an old VAX computer. A little research revealed that the exact same key is used widely in office furniture, electronic equipment, jukeboxes, and hotel minibars. It's a standard part, and like most standard parts it's easily purchased on the Internet. We bought several keys from an office furniture key shop — they open the voting machine too. We ordered another key on eBay from a jukebox supply shop. The keys can be purchased from many online merchants.

Remember that earlier post I wrote on the voting machines? The one which established one minute as the time needed to break into a machine? The one which showed us how to insert a virus which would affect many voting machines, change the results and do it so no trace can be found of anything being off.

Isn't it time to start taking all this seriously?
Via this daily Kos diary.