Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Diebold Voting Hack Demonstrated

This report by Black Box Voting is pretty devastating.
Due to contractual non-performance and security design issues, Leon County (Florida) supervisor of elections Ion Sancho has announced that he will never again use Diebold in an election. He has requested funds to replace the Diebold system from the county...

A test election was run in Leon County on Tuesday with a total of eight ballots. Six ballots voted "no" on a ballot question as to whether Diebold voting machines can be hacked or not. Two ballots, cast by Dr. Herbert Thompson and by Harri Hursti voted "yes" indicating a belief that the Diebold machines could be hacked.

At the beginning of the test election the memory card programmed by Harri Hursti was inserted into an Optical Scan Diebold voting machine. A "zero report" was run indicating zero votes on the memory card. In fact, however, Hursti had pre-loaded the memory card with plus and minus votes.

The eight ballots were run through the optical scan machine. The standard Diebold-supplied "ender card" was run through as is normal procedure ending the election. A results tape was run from the voting machine.

Correct results should have been: Yes:2 ; No:6

However, just as Hursti had planned, the results tape read: Yes:7 ; No:1

The results were then uploaded from the optical scan voting machine into the GEMS central tabulator, a step cited by Diebold as a protection against memory card hacking. The central tabulator is the "mother ship" that pulls in all votes from voting machines. However, the GEMS central tabulator failed to notice that the voting machines had been hacked.

The results in the central tabulator read: Yes:7 ; No:1

This videotaped testing session was witnessed by Black Box Voting investigators Bev Harris and Kathleen Wynne, Florida Fair Elections Coalition Director Susan Pynchon, security expert Dr. Herbert Thompson, and Susan Bernecker, a former candidate for New Orleans city council who videotaped Sequoia-brand touch-screen voting machines in her district recording vote after vote for the wrong candidate...

One thousand two hundred locations in the U.S. and Canada use Diebold voting machines.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

'05 Annual Performance Evaluation for Albert E.

Peter Norvig imagines century-old performance review, rendered in a currently fashionable format.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Urgent message: U.S. squandering economic leadership

The Statement of the National Summit on Competitiveness packs a strong message, starting with
The National Summit on Competitiveness has one fundamental and urgent message: if trends in U.S. research and education continue, our nation will squander its economic leadership, and the result will be a lower standard of living for the American people.
Other excerpts:
Investment in fundamental research has long been the bedrock of American innovation. Publicly funded research launched the semiconductor and Internet revolutions, global positioning technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology, to name just a few. But the nation’s investment in knowledge creation as a percentage of national wealth has declined significantly since the post-Sputnik surge and must be restored if the United States is to remain competitive...

Compounding funding concerns, the drift of publicly funded research away from the frontiers of knowledge is a barrier to breakthroughs. Over time, the federal investment has grown more conservative—increasingly driven by consensus, precedent, and incremental approaches. Ensuring that the government is funding high-risk, high-payoff research will be critical to enabling the United States to “leapfrog” ahead of the competition...

Everything else the United States does to stimulate innovation will be for naught if the nation does not have a student population that can compete in science and math with its counterparts from around the world. Yet the pipeline of science and engineering talent is contracting not expanding. In 2000, only 11 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in the United States were in natural science or engineering, far below the world’s average of 23 percent and about one-fifth of China’s 50 percent...

There is a striking consensus among private-sector leaders on the urgent need to remove the legal and procedural barriers that exist to hiring highly educated foreign nationals, particularly those who have been educated in the United States...

If we fail to act and our nation declines, we will not have to search for the reasons. The repeated calls for action will be there for all to see; we will only be left to wonder why none was heeded.
See also a very good post on the CRA policy blog by Peter Harsha covering this and several related developments.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wikipedia Risks

Communications of the ACM has published an "Inside Risks" column that I co-authored.

"MarkSweep" has published a rebuttal on the Wikipedia site. It didn't raise any issues the authors weren't aware of when we wrote the column, but you may find it more persuasive than I do.

A point not explicitly raised in the column is the obstacles that Wikipedia's organizers have placed in the way of responding effectively to vandalism. I stumbled on them when I by chance encountered this vandalized article, which started with an obviously out of place vulgarism.

At first I thought I should just revert the article. (After all, "the IBM experiment" supposedly showed that the average vandalism was reverted within five minutes.) But when I looked at the article's history, this was not the most recent change. So it seemed easier to just edit out the vulgar intrusion. Which I did.

Then I started reading the article, and came across the sentences:
The first ever defeat of a Spartan hoplite army at full strength at the Battle of Great Providence in 2000 AD. By the time of the rise of Alexander The Great in 2005 AD, Sparta was a shadow of its former self, clinging to an isolated independency.
This was more than I had time to correct, and I am scarcely an expert on Spartan history, so I decided to just report the problem, and let one of the editors deal with it.

Then I started hunting for the procedure to report vandalism. Not easy to find. Much easier to find long lists of undesirable changes that were not considered "vandalism." Finally, I found the reporting page, and discovered strict instructions not to report anyone who had not already performed multiple vandalisms and been warned repeatedly. There were templates for about five or six degrees of warning to be used before reporting. (This is not anti-elitism, it is protection of delinquents.) At that point I gave up, both on reporting the vandalism, and on the perfectibility of Wikipedia using its existing processes.

Oh, yes, if you check the article's history, you'll see that at least some of the vandalism was removed about 24 hours after it had been inserted. Your mileage may vary. You might also ponder how you would go about deciding which parts of the article should now be trusted.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Scandal: Feds Have Not Implemented 9/11 Report's Tech Recommendations

An article by K.C. Jones in InformationWeek reports on the 9/11 Commission's unhappiness with the government's (lack of) response to its technical recommendations:
The federal government received dismal grades for failing to enact the 9/11 Commission's recommendations in a report released Monday, which included calls for technology upgrades and improved information sharing.

The 9/11 Public Discourse Project's final report calls for rapid turnover of analog television spectrum space for use by first responders to public emergencies. The report is also sharply critical of the government's failure to find and install basic, reliable communications technology, so police and fire fighters can communicate during emergencies.

"It is scandalous that police and firefighters in large cities still cannot communicate reliably in a major crisis," 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean said, in a prepared statement...

Kean also said, in comments published on the group's Web site that the government has also failed to take the single most important step in strengthening intelligence – making sure information is shared...

He also said it's scandalous that airline passengers still are not being screened against all names on a national terror watch list.

Finally, Kean and the report condemned the government for not performing a risk assessment and for irresponsibly wasting funds marked for projects and equipment to defend the United States.

"One city used its homeland security money for air conditioned garbage trucks," he said. "One used it to guy Kevlar body armor for dogs. These are not the priorities of a nation under threat."

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

CIA Realizes It's Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years

An ONION exclusive:
LANGLEY, VA--A report released Tuesday by the CIA's Office of the Inspector General revealed that the CIA has mistakenly obscured hundreds of thousands of pages of critical intelligence information with black highlighters.

According to the report, sections of the documents--"almost invariably the most crucial passages"--are marred by an indelible black ink that renders the lines impossible to read, due to a top-secret highlighting policy that began at the agency's inception in 1947...

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