Ex-MI6 Boss: When It Comes To Voting, Pencil And Paper Are 'Much More Secure' Than Electronic Systems

from the and-he-should-know dept

Techdirt has been worried by problems of e-voting systems for a long time now. Before, that was just one of our quaint interests, but over the last few months, the issue of e-voting, and how secure it is from hacking, specifically hacking by foreign powers, has become a rather hot topic. It's great that the world has finally caught up with Techdirt, and realized that e-voting is not just some neat technology, and now sees that democracy itself is at play. The downside is that because the stakes are so high, the level of noise is too, and it's really hard to work out how worried we should be about recent allegations, and what's the best thing to do on the e-voting front.

What we really need is someone distant from the current US debate, and yet with a great deal of knowledge of how foreign intelligence services hack into computer systems. Maybe someone like Sir John Sawers, former head of MI6, the UK's CIA. Here's what he said recently to the BBC on the subject of e-voting:

"Bizarrely the stubby pencil and piece of paper that you put your cross on in the ballot box is actually much more secure than anything which is electronic."

And added:

"The more things that go online, the more susceptible you are to cyber attacks."

Since MI6 has probably been involved in quite a few of those attacks, Sir John speaks with a certain authority. He also has a good analysis of why there is this constant push for e-voting, even though security experts are pretty unanimous in their warnings of the dangers:

"The only trouble is, the younger generation of people expect to be able to do things remotely and through electronic devices."

That also goes some way to explaining the naivety of most people when it comes to the Internet of Things. Many people just "expect" everything to be digital and online and linked to its own app, even when it's just a hair brush.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: cybersecurity, e-voting, evoting, john sawers, mi6, security, uk


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  1. icon
    The Wanderer (profile), 7 Jan 2017 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: been bitching about voting systems...

    > Try making computers scramble the votes in the same way and you can't do it.

    What are you talking about? Of course it's possible. It's probably possible to design systems which _don't_ do it, but even assuming that the votes were cast on a system which doesn't, it's always possible to transfer the votes into a different system and then scramble them around there.

    I've already thought of at least three ways to approach this just off the top of my head - one of which I could implement easily if you gave me access to a system that includes functions to load a data file containing already-cast ballots with unique sequential IDs, and functions to write out such a file, and a definition of the format of the data structure which contains the ballots. Copying the ballots across in random order into a new copy of the same data structure, leaving the original unique IDs behind and generating new ones at copy time, would be trivial; delete the original data file and just use the new one, and hey presto, your ballots are shuffled and there's no way to reconstruct the original order.

    I really don't know where you're coming from on this.

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