Companies say California voting-machine review is unrealistic
SACRAMENTO (AP) Representatives of three voting machine companies on Monday criticized a state study that found their machines could be breached by hackers, saying it had reached unrealistic conclusions.Their testimony was countered by a University of California professor who helped lead the review and said it revealed “very real” vulnerabilities.”It may be that all of them can be protected against. It may be that some cannot,” said Matt Bishop, a computer science professor at UC Davis.Bishop discussed the study during a hearing held by Secretary of State Debra Bowen as she weighed whether to prohibit use of any of the machines during the Feb. 5 presidential primary. State law requires her to make that decision by Friday.”I intend to go through a methodical process to determine what to do next,” she said.The study, conducted by the university under a contract with Bowen’s office, examined machines sold by Diebold Election Systems, Hart InterCivic and Sequoia Voting Systems.It concluded that they were difficult for voters’ with disabilities to use and that hackers could break into the systems and change vote results.Most of the conclusions were released last week. A third part of the study looking at the complicated computer codes that control how electronic voting systems operate has yet to be released.A spokeswoman for Bowen, Nicole Winger, said the secretary of state’s office wanted to be sure release of that portion of the study did not reveal sensitive or proprietary information.Machines made by a fourth company, Elections Systems & Software, were not included because the company was late in providing information that the secretary of state needed for the review, Bowen said.Winger said the secretary of state’s office has launched a separate review of ES&S’s Inkavote Plus system, which is used only in Los Angeles County.Because of the looming Friday deadline, there is a “very real possibility” that Bowen would impose tougher controls on the continued use of that system until her office can verify that it is secure and accurate, Winger said.Bowen’s office also is reviewing an application by ES&S for certification of a new version of its Automark voting system, which is used in 10 counties.Sequoia, in a statement read by systems sales executive Steven Bennett, called the UC review “an unrealistic, worst-case-scenario evaluation.””None of the attacks described in the … report are capable of success,” Bennett told a panel of officials from the secretary of state’s office. “All would be prevented or detected through use of (a paper trail) and legally sufficient audit.”As of 2004, all voting machines used in California are required to produce a paper trail that will allow elections officials to see ballot results.Nevertheless, Sequoia said it was taking additional steps to ensure that the “few system vulnerabilities” found by the study could not be used to alter vote results provided by its machines.”Voting system reliability is something we’re always working at improving,” said Michelle Shafer, a Sequoia spokeswoman. “Security is never finished.”The company said election officials should consider buying new, updated machines if they think any of the study’s conclusions are valid.”The versions of the hardware, firmware and software systems evaluated were developed several years ago,” Sequoia said. “While it cannot be guaranteed that all of the extremely improbable vulnerabilities identified are prevented by subsequent product development and updates, many are specifically addressed.”Diebold also complained that the study didn’t look at its most recently developed software, which was designed to deal with some “low-risk issues” identified in a 2006 UC Berkeley study. But that equipment has yet to be certified for use in California.Hart said it found “several inconsistencies, alternate conclusions and errors” in the report.It also complained that the university’s review didn’t take into account “the well-designed security aspects of the Hart Voting System.” As an example, the company said its machines store votes in three different locations, making it difficult for hackers to change results.The companies also complain that Bowen’s review was performed under artificial conditions, with the examiners having access to computer coding, manuals and other information that is not available to the public.___On the Net:For a county-by-county list of voting systems, go to:http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting_systems/systemsinuse_110606.pdfFor information about the companies, go to:http://www.sequoiavote.com, http://www.hartintercivic.com and http://www.diebold.com
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