Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Jignesh Solanki, Dana Gardner, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Linux and Electronic Voting

Choosing the right system

From the start it seemed obvious. In building an electronic voting system (known to the industry as a DRE, or Direct Recording Electronic), you must follow four key principles:

  1. Do not change the social contract with the voter.
  2. Design it as a voting appliance, not a voting computer system.
  3. Ensure that the system is secure, reliable, and tamper resistant.
  4. Keep it flexible yet simple.

The Social Contract with the Voter

This is the founding design principle of the AccuPoll voting system. What we mean by "the social contract with the voter" is the notion that the system should record the intent of the voter, provide the voter with a confirmation that it has correctly recorded his or her intent, and allow that confirmation to be used as an audit trail in the event there is an issue with the electronic results. By doing this you get the benefit of electronic voting (i.e., immediate results, multilingual support, support for voters who are blind or otherwise challenged to vote in privacy) with the benefit of the long-standing practice of having an independent voter-verified audit trail of every vote cast. This meant that the only practical solution was a voting machine that can print a paper record as part of each voter's voting experience. The record is verified by the voter and, if correct, deposited in a ballot box before the voter leaves the polling place. If it's not correct, the voter has a chance to spoil the paper record and any accompanying electronic records and revote.

What this means from a system perspective is that any implementation of the in-precinct voting system must have printing capability, networking between the voting stations, an administrative console that is used to administer the election, and redundancy to allow the reprinting of paper records in the event that equipment on one voting station fails. For reasons of security, flexibility, and cost, Linux was the obvious choice as the implementation platform to help fulfill the contract with the voter.

The Voting Appliance

To build a reliable and trusted voting appliance using COTS hardware and open source system software you need a reliable, trusted, predictable, and secure operating environment. The design called for the voting machine to be an appliance, not a computing system. This meant self-discovery of services and of available peers, startup that is as simple as flipping a switch, and shutdown that is as complex as pulling the plug. To achieve this goal, the AccuPoll voting application runs within a carefully configured Red Hat distribution, on top of a partitioned ReiserFS file system.

All unnecessary services are disabled and startup is tuned to occur as quickly as possible. Reiser was chosen over ext3 for journaling because the journalled ext3 system would not last for more than a few days of abrupt shutdowns. This is critical from an appliance perspective because election workers should not be expected to follow a more complex shutdown procedure all the time.

Data loss was also a primary concern for our design. Thus, all election results are stored in a transactional database and are mirrored to flash on each voting station. To further guarantee system integrity, the system disk is partitioned into a set of system and application-specific partitions, thereby limiting the impact of incomplete writes across power failures and ensuring that application misbehavior does not prevent the system from booting. With these design choices we have been able to minimize the administrative burden of a complex voting application, that is, for all practical purposes running in a nontrivial distributed computing environment.

Security, Reliability, and Tamper Resistance

Perhaps the most important topic aside from the verifiability of elections is the security and, by inference, the accuracy of the voting systems. Security implies everything from the hardware to the software. By using Linux and COTS hardware, the AccuPoll system strikes a practical balance that provides a secure voting system (data is stored in a relational database with real access rights and not a simple flat file in an unprotected file system), with reasonable measures to prevent and, at a minimum, detect tampering. The system is configured to have no login consoles, with password-protected bios and grub boot sequences. The voting system does not run as root, thus the "root" user cannot log in. All events in the system are logged. All nonessential services are disabled and the in-kernel firewall is used to prevent unauthorized port access.

At the application layer we use Java as the implementation language of choice. By choosing Java we obtain all the benefits of its secure and sandboxed execution environment together with its support for cryptography and code verifiability. We therefore ensure that we run only signed executables that have been verified. The built-in cryptography support along with that of PGP allows us to produce election CDs and election result CDs that are verifiably correct, unchanged, and come from the correct source.

Flexible and Simple

As some would say, "In the United States there are 50 states and 50 different ways to run elections." While that's not completely true, election systems are clearly nonuniform from state to state. There are some very fine nuances that ensure you must build flexibility into the system. We use XML to provide the maximum flexibility with the least number of code changes. XML is used in two very different ways. The first is the XML behavior specification that is used to provide the presentation layer that the voter sees. This specification defines the look and feel of the interface, the actions on button press, and all aspects of the voting experience. The second XML specification defines all aspects of an election (i.e., candidate names and contests as well as the mapping of contests to precincts and polling places). By adopting this design, the AccuPoll system now supports election law in all 50 states and is able to make even significant interface changes with minimal impact on the underlying code base.

Why Linux Is the Right Solution

From the outset Linux was the obvious platform choice. It has the flexibility to disable all nonessential services and a firewall on each device to ensure only critically needed ports are open. It provides out-of-the-box networked printing, if needed. It has full Java support with predictable behavior and performance (in an unrelated project we experienced much different behavior and performance profiles when a Java application was run under different releases of Windows). Finally, as an optimization step we saw the possibility to migrate to an embedded Linux solution at some point in the future. This will further reduce costs and allow us to run the system on a smaller hardware footprint. Finally (as is sadly still the case), when we first designed the system, the Windows environment was rife with various attacks. We determined that the risk of deploying a Windows solution with all its clear vulnerabilities was greater than deploying a Linux solution with some unknowns. Two years later we are happy to report that we made the right choice.

More Stories By Dennis Vadura

Mr. Vadura is Chief Executive Officer of AccuPoll. Prior to founding AccuPoll Mr. Vadura founded Web Tools International, which continues to be a profitable and established WWW services and software development company. Prior to founding Web Tools, Mr. Vadura spent a year at EDS through its acquisition of MCI Systemhouse. While at EDS he was a Senior Technical Architect in the Americas Technology Office of EDS E.solutions, the $2+ billion, 20,000 person global unit focused on the strategy, design, implementation, and operations of e-business solutions.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Leading companies, from the Global Fortune 500 to the smallest companies, are adopting hybrid cloud as the path to business advantage. Hybrid cloud depends on cloud services and on-premises infrastructure working in unison. Successful implementations require new levels of data mobility, enabled by an automated and seamless flow across on-premises and cloud resources. In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Tevis, an IBM Storage Software Technical Strategist and Customer Solution Architec...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
Product connectivity goes hand and hand these days with increased use of personal data. New IoT devices are becoming more personalized than ever before. In his session at 22nd Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, Nicolas Fierro, CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions, will discuss how in order to protect your data and privacy, IoT applications need to embrace Blockchain technology for a new level of product security never before seen - or needed.
Imagine if you will, a retail floor so densely packed with sensors that they can pick up the movements of insects scurrying across a store aisle. Or a component of a piece of factory equipment so well-instrumented that its digital twin provides resolution down to the micrometer.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settle...
BnkToTheFuture.com is the largest online investment platform for investing in FinTech, Bitcoin and Blockchain companies. We believe the future of finance looks very different from the past and we aim to invest and provide trading opportunities for qualifying investors that want to build a portfolio in the sector in compliance with international financial regulations.
No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, discussed how from store operations and ...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
We are given a desktop platform with Java 8 or Java 9 installed and seek to find a way to deploy high-performance Java applications that use Java 3D and/or Jogl without having to run an installer. We are subject to the constraint that the applications be signed and deployed so that they can be run in a trusted environment (i.e., outside of the sandbox). Further, we seek to do this in a way that does not depend on bundling a JRE with our applications, as this makes downloads and installations rat...
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
DX World EXPO, LLC, a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lead...
Digital Transformation (DX) is not a "one-size-fits all" strategy. Each organization needs to develop its own unique, long-term DX plan. It must do so by realizing that we now live in a data-driven age, and that technologies such as Cloud Computing, Big Data, the IoT, Cognitive Computing, and Blockchain are only tools. In her general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Rebecca Wanta explained how the strategy must focus on DX and include a commitment from top management to create great IT jobs, monitor ...
"Cloud Academy is an enterprise training platform for the cloud, specifically public clouds. We offer guided learning experiences on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and all the surrounding methodologies and technologies that you need to know and your teams need to know in order to leverage the full benefits of the cloud," explained Alex Brower, VP of Marketing at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clar...
The IoT Will Grow: In what might be the most obvious prediction of the decade, the IoT will continue to expand next year, with more and more devices coming online every single day. What isn’t so obvious about this prediction: where that growth will occur. The retail, healthcare, and industrial/supply chain industries will likely see the greatest growth. Forrester Research has predicted the IoT will become “the backbone” of customer value as it continues to grow. It is no surprise that retail is ...