Software Quality Insights

Oct 27 2008   5:25PM GMT

Security review of Florida voting system

Colin Smith Colin Smith Profile: Colin Smith


Since writing about the Florida voting experience, it was brought to my attention how the state of Florida commissioned an independent expert review of the remote voting software that is being used in Okaloosa County. A team from the Florida State University’s (FSU) Security and Assurance in Information Technology (SAIT) Laboratory reviewed the Pnyx.core ODBP 1.0 remote voting software developed by Scytl.

The software is for use in the Okaloosa Distance Balloting Pilot (ODBP), which will test remote e-voting for about 1,000 overseas voters whose permanent residence is in Okaloosa County. It replaces other absentee voting mechanisms for participating overseas voters.

Under this pilot, voters will enter their votes electronically, those votes will be transmitted over the Internet, and the votes will be tabulated electronically.

The state of Florida, which certified this system at the end of September, always certifies its voting technology and processes. And in the past an independent review was done of the then-named Diebold systems. What makes this review stand out is the vendor’s willingness to cooperate and provide a full build environment for the source code.

“Scytl provided VMWare virtual machine images containing a full build environment, scripts to drive the build process, and step-by-step documentation describing how to initiate the build process,” according to the team’s report.

Doing that saved the team “significant” time and made it possible to apply static analysis tools to the software. The team used reports from two static analysis tools:

  • Fortify SCA, which Fortify donated, was used by the team.
  • Klocwork Insight was used by the Florida Division of Elections.

Additionally, the team participated with the vendor in an online question-and-answer exchange that “proved invaluable to the study.”

The team’s final report was mixed; it reported some good things, but it also found some bad things. In general, it passed review and was certified by the state.

But the important thing to take from this was the process and the cooperation of the vendor. This is hopefully the start of how things are done for the 2012 election.

“There are very few developers engaging with vendors such as [Klocwork] or state-sponsored programs to make their code usable in four years time or eight years time,” said Gwyn Fisher, Klocwork’s CTO.

Brendan Harrison, director of marketing at Klocwork, said it’s hoped that this review is used as a model going forward.

“The e-voting marketplace burst on the scene, and what we see happening is that the e-voting vendors are going to have to change how they develop software and work more cooperatively with the authorities,” he said.

The e-voting market needs to transition to one that is regulated in order to enforce good standards, a high-quality process, and a secure development lifecycle.

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