Matt Blaze's
Science, Security, Curiosity
Ohio Voting Security Review Released

Today Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner released the results of a comprehensive security review of the electronic voting systems used in her state. The study was similar in scope to the California top-to-bottom review conducted this summer (with which I was also involved), covering the systems used in Ohio. The project contracted several academic teams and others to examine the election procedures, equipment and source code used in that state, with the aim of identifying any problems that might render elections vulnerable to tampering under operational conditions.

The ten-week project examined in detail the touch-screen, optical scan, and election management technology from e-voting vendors ES&S, Hart InterCivic and Premier Election Systems (formerly Diebold). Project PI Patrick McDaniel (of Penn State) coordinated the academic teams and led the study of the Hart and Premier Systems (parts of which had already been reviewed in the California study). Giovanni Vigna (of WebWise Security and UCSB) led the team that did penetration testing of the ES&S system.

I led the University of Pennsylvania-based team, which examined the ES&S source code. This was particularly interesting, because, unlike Hart and Premier, the full ES&S source code suite hadn't previously been studied by the academic security community, although ES&S products are used by voters in 43 US states and elsewhere around the world. The study represented a rather unique opportunity to contribute to our understanding of e-voting security in practice, both inside and outside Ohio.

My group -- Adam Aviv, Pavol Cerny, Sandy Clark, Eric Cronin, Gaurav Shah, and Micah Sherr -- worked full-time with the source code and sample voting machines in a secure room on the Penn campus, trying to find ways to defeat security mechanisms under various kinds of real-world conditions. (Our confidentiality agreement prevented us from saying anything about the project until today, which is why we may have seemed especially unsociable for the last few months.)

As our report describes, we largely succeeded at finding exploitable vulnerabilities that could affect the integrity of elections that use this equipment.

The report is long and detailed, and speaks for itself far better than I can here. A brief statement from Patrick McDaniel and me can be found (PDF format) here. Our full 334 page report can be downloaded (11MB, PDF format) from the Ohio Secretary of State's web site at .

There were other parts to the study (called "Project EVEREST") than just the source code analysis, and, of course, there is also the question of how to actually secure elections in practice given the problems we found. The Ohio Secretary of State's web site [link] has a nice summary of the review and of the Secretary's recommendations.

Addendum (4 June 2008): Apparently the Ohio SoS web site was recently reorganized, breaking the original links in this post. I've updated the links to point to their new locations.

Addendum (24 March 2009): See this post for a recent case of vote stealing that exploited a user-interface flaw in the ES&S iVotronic.