Securing Elections

Elections serve two purposes. The first, and obvious, purpose is to accurately choose the winner. But the second is equally important: to convince the loser. To the extent that an election system is not transparently and auditably accurate, it fails in that second purpose. Our election systems are failing, and we need to fix them. Today, we conduct our elections…

Elections serve two purposes. The first, and obvious, purpose is to accurately choose the winner. But the second is equally important: to convince the loser. To the extent that an election system is not transparently and auditably accurate, it fails in that second purpose. Our election systems are failing, and we need to fix them.

Today, we conduct our elections on computers. Our registration lists are in computer databases. We vote on computerized voting machines. And our tabulation and reporting is done on computers. We do this for a lot of good reasons, but a side effect is that elections now have all the insecurities inherent in computers. The only way to reliably protect elections from both malice and accident is to use something that is not hackable or unreliable at scale; the best way to do that is to back up as much of the system as possible with paper.

Recently, there have been two graphic demonstrations of how bad our computerized voting system is. In 2007, the states of California and Ohio conducted audits of their electronic voting machines. Expert review teams found exploitable vulnerabilities in almost every component they examined. The researchers were able to undetectably alter vote tallies, erase audit logs, and load malware on to the systems. Some of their attacks could be implemented by a single individual with no greater access than a normal poll worker; others could be done remotely.

Last year, the Defcon hackers' conference sponsored a Voting Village. Organizers collected 25 pieces of voting equipment, including voting machines and electronic poll books. By the end of the weekend, conference attendees had found ways to compromise every piece of test equipment: to load malicious software, compromise vote tallies and audit logs, or cause equipment to fail.

It's important to understand that these were not well-funded nation-state attackers. These were not even academics who had been studying the problem for weeks. These were bored hackers, with no experience with voting machines, playing around between parties one weekend.

It shouldn't be any surprise that voting equipment, including voting machines, voter registration databases, and vote tabulation systems, are that hackable. They're computers -- often ancient computers running operating systems no longer supported by the manufacturers -- and they don't have any magical security technology that the rest of the industry isn't privy to. If anything, they're less secure than the computers we generally use, because their manufacturers hide any flaws behind the proprietary nature of their equipment.

We're not just worried about altering the vote. Sometimes causing widespread failures, or even just sowing mistrust in the system, is enough. And an election whose results are not trusted or believed is a failed election.

Voting systems have another requirement that makes security even harder to achieve: the requirement for a secret ballot. Because we have to securely separate the election-roll system that determines who can vote from the system that collects and tabulates the votes, we can't use the security systems available to banking and other high-value applications.

We can securely bank online, but can't securely vote online. If we could do away with anonymity -- if everyone could check that their vote was counted correctly -- then it would be easy to secure the vote. But that would lead to other problems. Before the US had the secret ballot, voter coercion and vote-buying were widespread.

We can't, so we need to accept that our voting systems are insecure. We need an election system that is resilient to the threats. And for many parts of the system, that means paper.

Let's start with the voter rolls. We know they've already been targeted. In 2016, someone changed the party affiliation of hundreds of voters before the Republican primary. That's just one possibility. A well-executed attack that deletes, for example, one in five voters at random -- or changes their addresses -- would cause chaos on election day.

Yes, we need to shore up the security of these systems. We need better computer, network, and database security for the various state voter organizations. We also need to better secure the voter registration websites, with better design and better internet security. We need better security for the companies that build and sell all this equipment.

Multiple, unchangeable backups are essential. A record of every addition, deletion, and change needs to be stored on a separate system, on write-only media like a DVD. Copies of that DVD, or -- even better -- a paper printout of the voter rolls, should be available at every polling place on election day. We need to be ready for anything.

Next, the voting machines themselves. Security researchers agree that the gold standard is a voter-verified paper ballot. The easiest (and cheapest) way to achieve this is through optical-scan voting. Voters mark paper ballots by hand; they are fed into a machine and counted automatically. That paper ballot is saved, and serves as a final true record in a recount in case of problems. Touch-screen machines that print a paper ballot to drop in a ballot box can also work for voters with disabilities, as long as the ballot can be easily read and verified by the voter.

Finally, the tabulation and reporting systems. Here again we need more security in the process, but we must always use those paper ballots as checks on the computers. A manual, post-election, risk-limiting audit varies the number of ballots examined according to the margin of victory. Conducting this audit after every election, before the results are certified, gives us confidence that the election outcome is correct, even if the voting machines and tabulation computers have been tampered with. Additionally, we need better coordination and communications when incidents occur.

It's vital to agree on these procedures and policies before an election. Before the fact, when anyone can win and no one knows whose votes might be changed, it's easy to agree on strong security. But after the vote, someone is the presumptive winner -- and then everything changes. Half of the country wants the result to stand, and half wants it reversed. At that point, it's too late to agree on anything.

The politicians running in the election shouldn't have to argue their challenges in court. Getting elections right is in the interest of all citizens. Many countries have independent election commissions that are charged with conducting elections and ensuring their security. We don't do that in the US.

Instead, we have representatives from each of our two parties in the room, keeping an eye on each other. That provided acceptable security against 20th-century threats, but is totally inadequate to secure our elections in the 21st century. And the belief that the diversity of voting systems in the US provides a measure of security is a dangerous myth, because few districts can be decisive and there are so few voting-machine vendors.

We can do better. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security declared elections to be critical infrastructure, allowing the department to focus on securing them. On 23 March, Congress allocated $380m to states to upgrade election security.

These are good starts, but don't go nearly far enough. The constitution delegates elections to the states but allows Congress to "make or alter such Regulations". In 1845, Congress set a nationwide election day. Today, we need it to set uniform and strict election standards.

This essay originally appeared in the Guardian.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

The DMCA and its Chilling Effects on Research

The Center for Democracy and Technology has a good summary of the current state of the DMCA’s chilling effects on security research. To underline the nature of chilling effects on hacking and security research, CDT has worked to describe how tinkerers, hackers, and security researchers of all types both contribute to a baseline level of security in our digital environment…

The Center for Democracy and Technology has a good summary of the current state of the DMCA's chilling effects on security research.

To underline the nature of chilling effects on hacking and security research, CDT has worked to describe how tinkerers, hackers, and security researchers of all types both contribute to a baseline level of security in our digital environment and, in turn, are shaped themselves by this environment, most notably when things they do upset others and result in threats, potential lawsuits, and prosecution. We've published two reports (sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation and MacArthur Foundation) about needed reforms to the law and the myriad of ways that security research directly improves people's lives. To get a more complete picture, we wanted to talk to security researchers themselves and gauge the forces that shape their work; essentially, we wanted to "take the pulse" of the security research community.

Today, we are releasing a third report in service of this effort: "Taking the Pulse of Hacking: A Risk Basis for Security Research." We report findings after having interviewed a set of 20 security researchers and hackers -- half academic and half non-academic -- about what considerations they take into account when starting new projects or engaging in new work, as well as to what extent they or their colleagues have faced threats in the past that chilled their work. The results in our report show that a wide variety of constraints shape the work they do, from technical constraints to ethical boundaries to legal concerns, including the DMCA and especially the CFAA.

Note: I am a signatory on the letter supporting unrestricted security research.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Russians Hacked the Olympics

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the myriad of hacking threats against the Olympics. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Russia hacked the Olympics network and tried to cast the blame on North Korea. Of course, the evidence is classified, so there’s no way to verify this claim. And while the article speculates that the hacks were a retaliation…

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the myriad of hacking threats against the Olympics. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Russia hacked the Olympics network and tried to cast the blame on North Korea.

Of course, the evidence is classified, so there's no way to verify this claim. And while the article speculates that the hacks were a retaliation for Russia being banned due to doping, that doesn't ring true to me. If they tried to blame North Korea, it's more likely that they're trying to disrupt something between North Korea, South Korea, and the US. But I don't know.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Can Consumers’ Online Data Be Protected?

Everything online is hackable. This is true for Equifax’s data and the federal Office of Personal Management’s data, which was hacked in 2015. If information is on a computer connected to the Internet, it is vulnerable. But just because everything is hackable doesn’t mean everything will be hacked. The difference between the two is complex, and filled with defensive technologies,…

Everything online is hackable. This is true for Equifax's data and the federal Office of Personal Management's data, which was hacked in 2015. If information is on a computer connected to the Internet, it is vulnerable.

But just because everything is hackable doesn't mean everything will be hacked. The difference between the two is complex, and filled with defensive technologies, security best practices, consumer awareness, the motivation and skill of the hacker and the desirability of the data. The risks will be different if an attacker is a criminal who just wants credit card details ­ and doesn't care where he gets them from ­ or the Chinese military looking for specific data from a specific place.

The proper question isn't whether it's possible to protect consumer data, but whether a particular site protects our data well enough for the benefits provided by that site. And here, again, there are complications.

In most cases, it's impossible for consumers to make informed decisions about whether their data is protected. We have no idea what sorts of security measures Google uses to protect our highly intimate Web search data or our personal e-mails. We have no idea what sorts of security measures Facebook uses to protect our posts and conversations.

We have a feeling that these big companies do better than smaller ones. But we're also surprised when a lone individual publishes personal data hacked from the infidelity site AshleyMadison.com, or when the North Korean government does the same with personal information in Sony's network.

Think about all the companies collecting personal data about you ­ the websites you visit, your smartphone and its apps, your Internet-connected car -- and how little you know about their security practices. Even worse, credit bureaus and data brokers like Equifax collect your personal information without your knowledge or consent.

So while it might be possible for companies to do a better job of protecting our data, you as a consumer are in no position to demand such protection.

Government policy is the missing ingredient. We need standards and a method for enforcement. We need liabilities and the ability to sue companies that poorly secure our data. The biggest reason companies don't protect our data online is that it's cheaper not to. Government policy is how we change that.

This essay appeared as half of a point/counterpoint with Priscilla Regan, in a CQ Researcher report titled "Privacy and the Internet."

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Water Utility Infected by Cryptocurrency Mining Software

A water utility in Europe has been infected by cryptocurrency mining software. This is a relatively new attack: hackers compromise computers and force them to mine cryptocurrency for them. This is the first time I’ve seen it infect SCADA systems, though. It seems that this mining software is benign, and doesn’t affect the performance of the hacked computer. (A smart…

A water utility in Europe has been infected by cryptocurrency mining software. This is a relatively new attack: hackers compromise computers and force them to mine cryptocurrency for them. This is the first time I've seen it infect SCADA systems, though.

It seems that this mining software is benign, and doesn't affect the performance of the hacked computer. (A smart virus doesn't kill its host.) But that's not going to always be the case.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

New Malware Hijacks Cryptocurrency Mining

This is a clever attack. After gaining control of the coin-mining software, the malware replaces the wallet address the computer owner uses to collect newly minted currency with an address controlled by the attacker. From then on, the attacker receives all coins generated, and owners are none the wiser unless they take time to manually inspect their software configuration. So…

This is a clever attack.

After gaining control of the coin-mining software, the malware replaces the wallet address the computer owner uses to collect newly minted currency with an address controlled by the attacker. From then on, the attacker receives all coins generated, and owners are none the wiser unless they take time to manually inspect their software configuration.

So far it hasn't been very profitable, but it -- or some later version -- eventually will be.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Remote Hack of a Boeing 757

Last month, the DHS announced that it was able to remotely hack a Boeing 757: "We got the airplane on Sept. 19, 2016. Two days later, I was successful in accomplishing a remote, non-cooperative, penetration," said Robert Hickey, aviation program manager within the Cyber Security Division of the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate. "[Which] means I didn’t have anybody…

Last month, the DHS announced that it was able to remotely hack a Boeing 757:

"We got the airplane on Sept. 19, 2016. Two days later, I was successful in accomplishing a remote, non-cooperative, penetration," said Robert Hickey, aviation program manager within the Cyber Security Division of the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate.

"[Which] means I didn't have anybody touching the airplane, I didn't have an insider threat. I stood off using typical stuff that could get through security and we were able to establish a presence on the systems of the aircraft." Hickey said the details of the hack and the work his team are doing are classified, but said they accessed the aircraft's systems through radio frequency communications, adding that, based on the RF configuration of most aircraft, "you can come to grips pretty quickly where we went" on the aircraft.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/

Uber Data Hack

Uber was hacked, losing data on 57 million driver and rider accounts. The company kept it quiet for over a year. The details are particularly damning: The two hackers stole data about the company’s riders and drivers ­– including phone numbers, email addresses and names — from a third-party server and then approached Uber and demanded $100,000 to delete their…

Uber was hacked, losing data on 57 million driver and rider accounts. The company kept it quiet for over a year. The details are particularly damning:

The two hackers stole data about the company's riders and drivers ­-- including phone numbers, email addresses and names -- from a third-party server and then approached Uber and demanded $100,000 to delete their copy of the data, the employees said.

Uber acquiesced to the demands, and then went further. The company tracked down the hackers and pushed them to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to the people familiar with the matter. To further conceal the damage, Uber executives also made it appear as if the payout had been part of a "bug bounty" -- a common practice among technology companies in which they pay hackers to attack their software to test for soft spots.

And almost certainly illegal:

While it is not illegal to pay money to hackers, Uber may have violated several laws in its interaction with them.

By demanding that the hackers destroy the stolen data, Uber may have violated a Federal Trade Commission rule on breach disclosure that prohibits companies from destroying any forensic evidence in the course of their investigation.

The company may have also violated state breach disclosure laws by not disclosing the theft of Uber drivers' stolen data. If the data stolen was not encrypted, Uber would have been required by California state law to disclose that driver's license data from its drivers had been stolen in the course of the hacking.

Uber was hacked, losing data on 57 million driver and rider accounts. They kept it quiet for over a year. The details are particularly damning:

The two hackers stole data about the company's riders and drivers ­- including phone numbers, email addresses and names -­ from a third-party server and then approached Uber and demanded $100,000 to delete their copy of the data, the employees said.

Uber acquiesced to the demands, and then went further. The company tracked down the hackers and pushed them to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to the people familiar with the matter. To further conceal the damage, Uber executives also made it appear as if the payout had been part of a "bug bounty" ­- a common practice among technology companies in which they pay hackers to attack their software to test for soft spots.

And almost certainly illegal:

While it is not illegal to pay money to hackers, Uber may have violated several laws in its interaction with them.

By demanding that the hackers destroy the stolen data, Uber may have violated a Federal Trade Commission rule on breach disclosure that prohibits companies from destroying any forensic evidence in the course of their investigation.

The company may have also violated state breach disclosure laws by not disclosing the theft of Uber drivers' stolen data. If the data stolen was not encrypted, Uber would have been required by California state law to disclose that driver's license data from its drivers had been stolen in the course of the hacking.

from https://www.schneier.com/blog/