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Security questioned earlier: Sensitive information on voting system was available on Diebold Web site, critics say

Beacon Journal

Questions about Diebold Inc.'s security began long before Johns Hopkins University researchers started poking holes in the company's facade.

In fact, it was one of the company's own Web sites that kept such questions going, said Bev Harris, a Diebold critic from Renton, Wash.

For a time, it was ``common industry knowledge'' that sensitive files about Diebold Election Systems' electronic voting system were available online, said David Dill, a computer science professor at Stanford University.

That site, which initially belonged to Global Elections Systems, became Diebold's property when it acquired the McKinney, Texas, company in2002 for $40 million. Global's software evolved into Diebold's current AccuVote-TS system, said Diebold critics.

Harris, a literary publicist by trade, said she stumbled across the now defunct site in January 2003 after a search on Google.

The site linked to about 40,000 files, including a slew of passwords, manuals, election results, product diagrams, simulators and software patches for the AccuVote-TS system, she said. All of it, Harris said, was available without any security.

``There was no copyright, no nothing,'' she said.

But Mark Radke, director of Diebold Election Systems, said he's certain any confidential files on the site were protected. He said the site was set up to let software engineers swap data.

At least one of those confidential files slipped past Diebold's security, though.

An employee in Vancouver, British Columbia, who was working on software for an electronic voting machine, posted unfinished source code on the site.

Normally, source code -- programming commands that tell a computer what to do -- for electronic voting machines is kept behind government doors.

But when the unnamed worker uploaded the incomplete code, others in the public got their hands on it, Radke said.

That's where Johns Hopkins researchers got the information to conduct last month's study -- the first of its kind.

``Up until now, these guys were operating in the dark in their labs with no oversight,'' said lead researcher Avi Rubin.

Rubin believes the code belongs to Diebold's AccuVote-TS system, although Diebold says the programming was never used in an election and never will be.

``It was a mistake that was made,'' Radke said. ``It gave the reporters a small bit of information, but something of substance.''

Even if the code is outdated, Rubin said, the current software for the AccuVote-TS is probably based on it, much like the highest tier of a house of cards relies on a lower tier.

Radke said the leaked code is a ``very, very small part of the current code.'' Diebold's new AccuVote-TSX machine is based on totally different source code.

Diebold took down the Web site in January, shortly after Harris wrote about it on her Web site, www.blackboxvoting.org.

Such technical files are now closely guarded, Radke said.

Before Diebold shuttered the site, though, Harris said plenty of people copied its contents. New Zealand-based Scoop Media maintains a link to download all 40,000 files on its Web site.

Diebold officials said the files present no security risk.
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