Category Archives: Security

Diebold insider issues warnings

RawStory posted an “exclusive interview” yesterday. There are some harsh allegations that altogether appear to be a stern warning to stay away from Diebold systems until an independent and open validation is available:

Previous revelations from the whistleblower have included evidence that Diebold’s upper management and top government officials knew of backdoor software in Diebold’s central tabulator before the 2004 election, but ignored urgent warnings—such as a Homeland Security alert posted on the Internet.

[…]

The 2002 gubernatorial election in Georgia raised serious red flags, the source said.

“Shortly before the election, ten days to two weeks, we were told that the date in the machine was malfunctioning,”? the source recalled. “So we were told ‘Apply this patch in a big rush.’”? Later, the Diebold insider learned that the patches were never certified by the state of Georgia, as required by law.

[…]

Responding to public demand for paper trails, Diebold has devised a means of retrofitting its paperless TSX system with printers and paper rolls. But in Ohio’s November 2005 election, some machines produced blank paper.

The whistleblower is not surprised. “The software is again the culprit here. It’s not completely developed. I saw the exact same thing in Chicago during a demonstration held in Cook County for a committee of people who were looking at various election machines… They rejected it for other reasons.”?

Asked if Ohio officials were made aware of that failure prior to the recent election, the source said, “No way. Anything goes wrong inside Diebold, it’s hush-hush.”?

Most officials are not notified of failed demonstrations like the one in Cook County, the insider said, adding that most system tests, particularly those exhibited for sale are not conducted with a typical model.

California, which recently conducted a test of the system without public scrutiny that found only a three percent failure rate—far lower than earlier tests that found a 30 percent combined failure due to software crashes and printer jams.

Asked if the outcomes of the newest test should be trusted, the whistleblower, who does not know the protocols used in the California test, warned, “There’s a practice in testing where you get a pumped-up machine and pumped-up servers, and that’s what you allow them to test. Diebold does it and so do other manufacturers. It’s extremely common.”?

[…]

The Diebold insider noted that the initial GEMS system used to tabulate votes for the Diebold Opti-scan systems was designed by Jeffrey Dean, who was convicted in the early 1990s of computer-aided embezzlement. Dean was hired by Global Election Systems, which Diebold acquired in 2000. Global also had John Elder, a convicted cocaine trafficker, on its payroll.

Someone convicted of computer-aided embezzlement designed the system? Security clearance is mandatory for many government jobs related to handling sensitive information, one would think that election systems should be treated in a similar fashion. Diebold should be held to a strict burden of proof that their systems are safe, at this point, and not allowed to release any product for public consumption until all uncertainty has been thoroughly clarified.

Alternatively, perhaps Diebold management should ask their staff to use their own systems to vote on future direction for the company and swear that they will abide by the outcome. Live by the sword…

Gates wrong about spam

Apparently as many as 80% of people surveyed did not trust Gates in 2004 when he announced that spam would be gone by 2006. An article in today’s ZDNet suggests that within 30 days that number might jump to as high as 100%:

Bill Gates’ prediction of January 2004 that spam would be “a thing of the past” within two years has virtually no chance of coming true, according to security company Sophos this week.

Beware those who say “security will happen by x date”. True security is far more complex and subject to uncertainties than a short-term objective such as a functionality enhancement. Moreover, there are usually so many influential factors that it is better to say “security will have x control in place by y date” and predict a resultant soft “decline” rather than any “absolute” or “total” eradication.

ZDNet put it slightly differently when they covered the original announcement.

John Cheney, chief executive of email security firm BlackSpider Technologies, which conducted the survey, said the results show that the industry doesn’t perceive Microsoft as a security authority, despite its chairman’s enthusiasm for the task

To his credit, at least Gates did not land on the roof of Symantec in 2004 for a photo-op in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

The Key to Recovery

Quantum announced that they think 2006 will finally be a good year to market security for tape backups. They just announced that they will be ready in the first quarter of 2006 to provide an authentication (locking) mechanism tapes:

Quantum’s DLTSage Tape Security is a firmware feature designed into its newest DLT tape drives that uses an electronic key to prevent or allow reading and writing of data on to a tape cartridge.

Sounds interesting. The two big hurdles to encryption on tape have been how to handle key management and the performance hit. With key management integrated first, Quantum still has to generate some buzz about performance. They mentioned it briefly in their DLTSage announcement, but it sounds like they are still working on what to do with the technology in an appliance they acquired:

The DataFort appliance provides wire-speed, transparent encryption and access controls for disk and tape storage systems, delivering best-in-class security, performance and key management for heterogeneous storage environments. In addition to the joint sales and marketing efforts with Decru, Quantum also plans to offer tightly integrated encryption and security management capabilities within its product line.

Quantum could be hinting that their encryption appliances will give way to a more integrated solution, which sounds like a reasonable and well-worn approach to enhancing big company legacy products with innovation via acquisitions. If the integration is successful I expect we will find ourselves without any good reason not to encrypt at the block-level, especially on recovery systems. Until then, it seems we must continue file-level encryption prior to backup.

So, is a lock on a tape worth the hassle? It does not comply with breach-notification laws and yet introduces risk of lost keys, so there’s no real ROI there, but it does pre-stage the backup processes with tighter authentication. And that may be worthwhile if you can ensure that time spent on key management now will help reduce the cost of encryption down the road (when performance is a truly dead issue).

Computer controls and conclusions

Donohue and Levitt are somewhat famous for their bold claim, published in the May 2001 edition of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, that legalized abortion has reduced crime.

The Economist just put forward an amusing update that discusses a Federal Reserve Bank of Boston working paper and counter-claim that is based on a re-test of the data and analysis of the computer code used by Donohue and Levitt:

Messrs Foote and Goetz have inspected the authors’ computer code and found the controls missing. In other words, Messrs Donohue and Levitt did not run the test they thought they had—an “inadvertent but serious computer programming errorâ€?, according to Messrs Foote and Goetz

Fixing that error reduces the effect of abortion on arrests by about half, using the original data, and two-thirds using updated numbers. But there is more. In their flawed test, Messrs Donohue and Levitt seek to explain arrest totals (eg, the 465 Alabamans of 18 years of age arrested for violent crime in 1989), not arrest rates per head (ie, 6.6 arrests per 100,000). This is unsatisfactory, because a smaller cohort will obviously commit fewer crimes in total. Messrs Foote and Goetz, by contrast, look at arrest rates, using passable population estimates based on data from the Census Bureau, and discover that the impact of abortion on arrest rates disappears entirely.

I look forward to the question of this programming “error” being addressed by Donohue and Levitt. It does not seem to refute the premise of their conclusion outright as much as question the methodology and provide an opportunity to fix a control and re-run the tests themselves.

The big question, of course, is still whether there are controls that have a direct relationship to reducing crime and at what cost.