Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Flint Brenton

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
SYS-CON Events announced today that Tintri Inc., a leading producer of VM-aware storage (VAS) for virtualization and cloud environments, will exhibit at the 18th International CloudExpo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC Software has been named "Siver Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. BMC is a global leader in innovative software solutions that help businesses transform into digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive advantage. BMC Digital Enterprise Management is a set of innovative IT solutions designed to make digital business fast, seamless, and optimized from mainframe to mo...
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, wh...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EastBanc Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. EastBanc Technologies has been working at the frontier of technology since 1999. Today, the firm provides full-lifecycle software development delivering flexible technology solutions that seamlessly integrate with existing systems – whether on premise or cloud. EastBanc Technologies partners with p...
Companies can harness IoT and predictive analytics to sustain business continuity; predict and manage site performance during emergencies; minimize expensive reactive maintenance; and forecast equipment and maintenance budgets and expenditures. Providing cost-effective, uninterrupted service is challenging, particularly for organizations with geographically dispersed operations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...
The IoT is changing the way enterprises conduct business. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Hoffman, Vice President at EastBanc Technologies, discuss how businesses can gain an edge over competitors by empowering consumers to take control through IoT. We'll cite examples such as a Washington, D.C.-based sports club that leveraged IoT and the cloud to develop a comprehensive booking system. He'll also highlight how IoT can revitalize and restore outdated business models, making them profitable...
The essence of data analysis involves setting up data pipelines that consist of several operations that are chained together – starting from data collection, data quality checks, data integration, data analysis and data visualization (including the setting up of interaction paths in that visualization). In our opinion, the challenges stem from the technology diversity at each stage of the data pipeline as well as the lack of process around the analysis.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Commvault, a global leader in enterprise data protection and information management, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7–9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Commvault is a leading provider of data protection and information management...
Designing IoT applications is complex, but deploying them in a scalable fashion is even more complex. A scalable, API first IaaS cloud is a good start, but in order to understand the various components specific to deploying IoT applications, one needs to understand the architecture of these applications and figure out how to scale these components independently. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nara Rajagopalan is CEO of Accelerite, will discuss the fundamental architecture of IoT applications, ...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York and 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 ...
As cloud and storage projections continue to rise, the number of organizations moving to the cloud is escalating and it is clear cloud storage is here to stay. However, is it secure? Data is the lifeblood for government entities, countries, cloud service providers and enterprises alike and losing or exposing that data can have disastrous results. There are new concepts for data storage on the horizon that will deliver secure solutions for storing and moving sensitive data around the world. ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MangoApps will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. MangoApps provides modern company intranets and team collaboration software, allowing workers to stay connected and productive from anywhere in the world and from any device. For more information, please visit https://www.mangoapps.com/.
18th Cloud Expo, taking place June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, 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...
SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. With a global footprint of data centers and network points of presence, SoftLayer provides infrastructure as a service to leading-edge customers ranging from Web startups to global enterprises. SoftLayer's modular architecture, full-featured API, and sophisticated automation provide unparalleled performance and control. Its flexible unified platform seamlessly spans physical and virtual devices linked via a world...
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, will provide 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 ...
In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, will discuss how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects). Bruce Swann has more than 15 years of experience working with digital marketing disciplines like web analytics, social med...
Join us at Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo 2016 – June 7-9 at the Javits Center in New York City and November 1-3 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – and deliver your unique message in a way that is striking and unforgettable by taking advantage of SYS-CON's unmatched high-impact, result-driven event / media packages.
SYS-CON Events announced today that ContentMX, the marketing technology and services company with a singular mission to increase engagement and drive more conversations for enterprise, channel and SMB technology marketers, has been named “Sponsor & Exhibitor Lounge Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. “CloudExpo is a great opportunity to start a conversation with new prospects, but what happens after the...
The 19th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices 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 y...