Experts recommend Estonia to return to paper ballots
12th May 2014
Estonia is the first and only country that allows internet voting in political elections and referendums. Researchers now indicate fundamental risks.
Just two weeks before the European elections occurred, an international team of independent IT security experts addressed the public and pointed out fundamental risks in Estonian internet voting system. The experts consider the security flaws so serious that they recommend to put the system out of service immediately and return to elections with paper ballots.
Estonia is the first and only country that allows internet voting in political elections and referendums. Approximately 20 to 25 percent of the voters make use of this possibility. Developed by domestic firms the system is used in national and local elections and is to be used also in the European elections on 25 May 2014.
Lax security function, sufficient transparency
The arrangements for functional safety are lax, contradictory, are not sufficiently transparent for credible count and also as the software shows serious gaps against attacks from the outside, is the verdict of the team around Alex Halderman at the University of Michigan as well as the security researcher Harri Hursti, Jason Kitcat of the Open Rights Group and the election observer Maggie MacAlpine. All four had participated as election observers in the Estonian local elections last year.
“We have seen no closed, fully documented procedure for the care of the backend systems for these online elections,” Hursti complained. “These computers can be easily infiltrated by criminals or foreign hackers and undermine the security of the entire system.” Critical software would be downloaded via unsecured Internet connections, secret passwords and PINs under the supervision of video cameras would be given and the distribution of voting software be made to the citizens on unsecured computers.
“The Estonian Internet voting system blindly trusts the choice of servers and computers of voters,” Alex Halderman sums up his criticism; ‘both could present an attractive target to state attackers”. Together with two graduate students, the e-voting expert modeled at the University of Michigan the Estonian electoral system with the software used in the elections in 2013 in the laboratory by its own account and studied various attack scenarios. In a scenario they succeeded to unnoticedly steal votes with malware on the computer of the voter in spite of the protection by electronic ID card and smart phone verification. With another scenario it could be shown, Halderman reported, that malware attacks on the counting server could be possible which would influence the official results in the desired manner. The results of the tests will be published on a dedicated website. (Richard Sietmann)