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Today Randall Munroe’s webcomic XKCD features an amusing clip mocking Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold Election Systems, for installing anti-virus software on their voting machines. For those unfamiliar with the subject matter, the comic suggests that there should be absolutely no need for security software on such devices, and if there is then Premier Election Solutions has made some extremely poor design choices. Premier is using McAfee anti-virus software, which indicates that their voting machines run a version of Windows. However this in itself is completely overkill for the simplicity of the task, not to mention a security liability.

The voting machines were intended to increase accuracy, security, and overall efficiency during the voting process. This would have been feasible with a simple microcontroller, but Premier seems to have taken the wrong course of action, installing an Operating System that is not only susceptible to viruses but capable of running nontrivial anti-virus software.

Diebold also has a history of performance issues with its election technology. They have since changed their name to shed this reputation, but the most recent incident confirms that the new entity is experiencing the same issues. Last week county boards in Ohio filed suit against the company for device malfunction and tabulation errors. Apparently in all test cases their tabulation software failed to upload votes from memory cards while equipment indicated they had been counted. It’s alright though, Premier spokesman Chris Riggall has blamed the malfunctions on the McAfee anti-virus software.

As XKCD points out, someone is clearly doing their job horribly wrong.

  • http://www.superpixel.com Victor Agreda Jr

    Well, yes. I think what you’re saying is that you don’t need to build a planet when you only need a seed.

    The problem is that in the marketplace there’s this rush to make cheap stuff quickly. That is simply begging for stupid mistakes to creep in at every turn. “Build our own OS? Poppycock! My computer runs Windows, Bill Gates is rich, ergo, Windows must be the best solution.”

    In fact, it’d probably take a couple of smart, dedicated guys about a month to make a simple, secure, portable machine capable of doing the simplest thing imaginable: tallying entries in a very flat database. That is, if they did it *right.*

  • http://www.superpixel.com Victor Agreda Jr

    Well, yes. I think what you’re saying is that you don’t need to build a planet when you only need a seed.

    The problem is that in the marketplace there’s this rush to make cheap stuff quickly. That is simply begging for stupid mistakes to creep in at every turn. “Build our own OS? Poppycock! My computer runs Windows, Bill Gates is rich, ergo, Windows must be the best solution.”

    In fact, it’d probably take a couple of smart, dedicated guys about a month to make a simple, secure, portable machine capable of doing the simplest thing imaginable: tallying entries in a very flat database. That is, if they did it *right.*

  • Nathan

    there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using windows for the base of a voting machine. it makes the app development incredibly simple.

    what i don’t understand is the need for anti-virus. are these machines hooked into the internet? why is it possible for anybody to install application on these things? i windows box on a lan with lowered permissions really doesn’t need av.

  • Nathan

    there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using windows for the base of a voting machine. it makes the app development incredibly simple.

    what i don’t understand is the need for anti-virus. are these machines hooked into the internet? why is it possible for anybody to install application on these things? i windows box on a lan with lowered permissions really doesn’t need av.

  • Basil

    I believe that the issue is that a voting machine should not be worries about the ambient viruses you see on the net, but instead the security holes that would allow a partisan hacker to walk into the booth, do something fiddley with a memory key, and then singlehandedly choose the result of the election.

  • Basil

    I believe that the issue is that a voting machine should not be worries about the ambient viruses you see on the net, but instead the security holes that would allow a partisan hacker to walk into the booth, do something fiddley with a memory key, and then singlehandedly choose the result of the election.

  • Victor

    We need a paper trail on these things, dammit!

  • Victor

    We need a paper trail on these things, dammit!

  • Phreakonomist

    Clearly the paper trail route is superior due to people’s inherent aptitude for counting votes re: Florida.

  • Phreakonomist

    Clearly the paper trail route is superior due to people’s inherent aptitude for counting votes re: Florida.

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