Doc Ruby writes to tell us about an article in the Baltimore (MD) Sun, reporting that someone sent a package to a former legislator containing what appears to be Diebold source code. From the article: "Diebold Election Systems Inc. expressed alarm and state election officials contacted the FBI yesterday after a former legislator received an anonymous package containing what appears to be the computer code that ran Maryland's polls in 2004... The availability of the code — the written instructions that tell the machines what to do — is important because some computer scientists worry that the machines are vulnerable to malicious and virtually undetectable vote-switching software. An examination of the instructions would enable technology experts to identify flaws, but Diebold says the code is proprietary and does not allow public scrutiny of it." Read on for more of Doc Ruby's comments and questions.
Maryland's primary elections last month were ruined by procedural and tech problems. Maryland used Diebold machines, even though its Republican governor "lost faith" in them as early as February this year, with months to do something about it before Maryland relied on them in their elections.
The Diebold code was secret, and was used in 2002 even though illegally uncertified — even by private analysts under nondisclosure. Now that it's being "opened by force," the first concern from Diebold, the government, and the media is that it could be further exploited by crackers. What if the voting software were open from the beginning, so its security relied only on hard secrets (like passwords and keys), not mere obscurity, which can be destroyed by "leaks" like the one reported by the Sun? The system's reliability would be known, and probably more secure after thorough public review. How much damage does secret source code employed in public service have to cause before we require it to be opened before we buy it, before we base our government on it?