Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Linux Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Jason Bloomberg, AppDynamics Blog

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: 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
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
Disruptive macro trends in technology are impacting and dramatically changing the "art of the possible" relative to supply chain management practices through the innovative use of IoT, cloud, machine learning and Big Data to enable connected ecosystems of engagement. Enterprise informatics can now move beyond point solutions that merely monitor the past and implement integrated enterprise fabrics that enable end-to-end supply chain visibility to improve customer service delivery and optimize supplier management. Learn about enterprise architecture strategies for designing connected systems tha...
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...
SYS-CON Events announced today that the "First Containers & Microservices Conference" will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. The “Second Containers & Microservices Conference” will take place November 3-5, 2015, at Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities.
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists will peel away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fil...
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold. Mike Kavis is Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Pa...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
The recent trends like cloud computing, social, mobile and Internet of Things are forcing enterprises to modernize in order to compete in the competitive globalized markets. However, enterprises are approaching newer technologies with a more silo-ed way, gaining only sub optimal benefits. The Modern Enterprise model is presented as a newer way to think of enterprise IT, which takes a more holistic approach to embracing modern technologies.
One of the biggest impacts of the Internet of Things is and will continue to be on data; specifically data volume, management and usage. Companies are scrambling to adapt to this new and unpredictable data reality with legacy infrastructure that cannot handle the speed and volume of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and president of Infobright, will discuss how companies need to rethink their data infrastructure to participate in the IoT, including: Data storage: Understanding the kinds of data: structured, unstructured, big/small? Analytics: What kinds and how responsiv...
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
The Workspace-as-a-Service (WaaS) market will grow to $6.4B by 2018. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Seth Bostock, CEO of IndependenceIT, will begin by walking the audience through the evolution of Workspace as-a-Service, where it is now vs. where it going. To look beyond the desktop we must understand exactly what WaaS is, who the users are, and where it is going in the future. IT departments, ISVs and service providers must look to workflow and automation capabilities to adapt to growing demand and the rapidly changing workspace model.
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He discussed opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and technical point of vie...
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...
Grow your business with enterprise wearable apps using SAP Platforms and Google Glass. SAP and Google just launched the SAP and Google Glass Challenge, an opportunity for you to innovate and develop the best Enterprise Wearable App using SAP Platforms and Google Glass and gain valuable market exposure. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Brian McPhail, Senior Director of Business Development, ISVs & Digital Commerce at SAP, outlined the timeline of the SAP Google Glass Challenge and the opportunity for developers, start-ups, and companies of all sizes to engage with SAP today.