October 9th, 2006

The Diebolds of the world

So you think tamperable voting machines are a US-only problem huh? Here’s an interesting report (English) from the website wijvertrouwenstemcomputersniet.nl (we don’t trust voting computers). I like the part where the manufacturer Nedap states “I’d like to see proven that it is a general computer so it can play chess” and the guys actually make it do that. Too funny. While the software is not written badly and a ton of redundancy is build into the systems, the basic root problem is the whole “security by obscurity” design. And don’t say they should build it on non standard hardware. It will only deepen the problem. A quote.

In contrast Jan Groenendaal, the maker of the ES3B software, in 2006 says:

“However Open Source or publishing the source code provides opportunities for dubious characters and unfortunately election and election fraud are both as old as democracy itself. The fact that only few people have this knowledge can also be interpreted in a positive light. If something goes wrong one quickly knows where to look, and this mere fact is a deterrent for willful manipulation (inside attack)”

This reasoning is a clear example of a controversial design practice often dubbed Security By Obscurity: the inner workings of his system need to remain secret to protect our elections from “dubious characters”. Many of the poor design choices that underlie the ES3B’s security problems can be excused against the backdrop of the 1980s, when fewer options were available to system designers and many of the present-day security concerns had not yet surfaced. But given that Dutch democracy now completely depends on his technology, the fact that Groenendaal’s 2006 viewpoints on security are so far removed from the general consensus in the computer security community is cause for concern.

What is funny in relation to this quote is that the secret keystroke sequence to enter maintenance mode on the computer is the word GEHEIM. yes, you got it, SECRET in Dutch. Oh man!

btw Nedap, the main contractor and hardware builder is a key supplier of RFID technology and look-alikes, such as door openers, theft detecting gates and even cow-labels, so the computer can identify the feeding animal and dispensing the calculated foodstuff.

Update: Things are seriously heating up now, commercial television on the 5th, public radio on the 10th. Denial mode from the administration and the manufacturer is slowly coming around. And more facts are popping up. Random selection:

  1. In Amsterdam, election officials were being instructed by a private party. In essence, the administration has outsourced the elections (and has no way to verify them).
  2. A court case is being prepared by the foundation I mentioned above.
  3. They are also organizing for people to go cast their vote in the last 10 municipalities in the country that still vote using red pencil and paper (one can by law change voting office).
  4. I personally asked questions in writing to my local municipality, no response yet.
  5. I will have a remark made in the official report of my local voting office, which I urge any Dutch reader to do. It is secured in the law, see above mentioned website.

No worries, I will keep on breathing.

Update: Oy oy. International interest kicking in.

Update: One of the two machine types (SDU, that used a wireless modem, eeww!) has been disapproved by the government. Amongst others, Amsterdam is going to vote with pencil and paper.

October 3rd, 2006

The children are the future

As a father I cannot help but see a sad relationship between

  1. The shooting in the Amish school (the shooter was “mad at life and God”);
  2. The pope accused of being involved in a cover up of sexual misbehavior. An instructional letter from his hand  a decade or two ago didn’t even mention victims, except they should be sworn to secrecy;
  3. The laws in the US regarding guns (pretty liberal) forbidding sex toys (pretty strict).
September 28th, 2006

The God Delusion

A word of caution here. This is about “faith”. And I am hard core atheïst. If you don’t like that, do yourself a favor and simply don’t read on. Ok? Deal! We’re still friends!

On boingboing I ran into Richard Dawkins on the God Delusion. He makes a hard case against religion (any religion, just making sure). From the BBC book review:

When I interviewed for television the Reverend Michael Bray, a prominent American anti-abortion activist, I asked him why evangelical Christians were so obsessed with private sexual inclinations such as homosexuality, which didn’t interfere with anybody else’s life. His reply invoked something like self-defence. Innocent citizens are at risk of becoming collateral damage when God chooses to strike a town with a natural disaster because it houses sinners. In 2005, the fine city of New Orleans was catastrophically flooded in the aftermath of a hurricane, Katrina. The Reverend Pat Robertson, one of America’s best-known televangelists and a former presidential candidate, was reported as blaming the hurricane on a lesbian comedian who happened to live in New Orleans.* You’d think an omnipotent God would adopt a slightly more targeted approach to zapping sinners: a judicious heart attack, perhaps, rather than the wholesale destruction of an entire city just because it happened to be the domicile of one lesbian comedian.

It gets better and better:

Apparently [his] ethical philosophy places a higher value on [] embryos than on Iraqi or Lebanese men, women and children. Don’t misunderstand ‘embryos’, by the way. We are not talking miniature babies here. The ‘embryos’ used for stem cell research are no bigger than a pinhead, and completely lacking in sentience of any kind.

Mild introduction through an interview here on YouTube. My kind of guy. Maybe more intolerant, but he seems nice. And smart.

Update: A vastly interesting 20+ minutes lecture, which btw is not about God but about how our brains are (only) tuned to handle our, as he calls it, “middle sized world”.

Update april 28th 2007: Richard’s talk on TED.