Diebold declares machines secure

Release of code raises concerns among critics of electronic vote system

Maryland Votes 2006

October 21, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

As the FBI continued its review of the possible theft of the computer code used in Maryland's voting machines two years ago, Diebold and elections officials assured voters that the electronic voting system set to be used in next month's election is safe and tamperproof.

But critics of the state elections board and its touch-screen machines said the anonymous package left at a former legislator's office this week was another disturbing sign that Maryland's voting system could face a security threat.

Diebold Elections System Inc., which manufactures the machines, issued a statement yesterday saying it is fully cooperating with the FBI. The company reiterated that it did not create or ever have possession of the computer disks that were delivered to the office of former Del. Cheryl C. Kagan.

"The availability of this software poses no threat to the safety, security and accuracy of elections in any jurisdiction using Diebold Election Systems voting machines," said David Byrd, the company's president.

The FBI would not comment on its efforts. "We have been contacted, and it is under review by our office," said Michelle Crnkovich, a spokeswoman.

Computer disks containing copies of the code - written instructions that tell the machines what to do - were delivered Wednesday to Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat and critic of Maryland Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone.

An accompanying letter said Kagan was "the proud recipient of an `abandoned baby Diebold source code,'" and said the disks were picked up from the State Board of Elections.

"You have the software because you are a credible person who can save the state from itself," the note said. "You must alert the media and save democracy."

Kagan contacted the attorney general's office and gave The Washington Post copies of the code, contained in three versions on separate disks.

The disks, according to labels, were created by two out-of-state companies required by law to test the software. The disks from one company, Ciber Inc., were encrypted to protect their contents and were not opened, said the statement from Diebold.

But the software from Wyle Laboratories was not encrypted, the statement said, suggesting those disks could be accessed. The statement noted that the two-year-old code is not currently used by any jurisdiction.

The chain of custody of the disks remained unclear yesterday.

Ross Goldstein, the state's deputy elections administrator, would not comment on whether the disks were ever in the possession of the State Board of Elections. "That's all being investigated," said Goldstein. "Really, I can't confirm that they were there."

Goldstein said the board was never aware of missing disks. He said there is no internal investigation and that all information is being referred to the FBI.

"This is not software that's in use in this 2006 election," said Goldstein. "The software that we're using now is very different and has many more security features."

Critics remained skeptical.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has been a critic of the Diebold machines, said the leak of the source code is disturbing but, given problems in the September primary with Maryland's new voting system, not surprising.

Ehrlich has encouraged voters to consider absentee ballots if they feel uncomfortable with the voting technology and has been joined by some Democrats, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

Kagan said the focus should be less on the investigation and more on what she said is a long history of glitches within the State Board of Elections. "Why is it that Marylanders cannot go to vote in a couple of weeks with confidence that their voting machines will work and that their votes will be counted accurately?" Kagan asked.

Johns Hopkins University computer scientist Aviel Rubin, who reviewed one of the disks, said the FBI contacted him yesterday to see if he had copies of the disks. He told them he did not, he said.

Rubin said Maryland voters should be worried. "We've known for a while now that they're not very good at security, and this is just another demonstration"


Sun reporters Andrew A. Green and Melissa Harris contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.