463: Voting Machines
Title text: And that's *another* crypto conference I've been kicked out of. C'mon, it's a great analogy!
In the 2008 Ohio primary elections, there were numerous problems with electronic voting machines, which eventually required many districts to revert to pen and paper. Premier Election Solutions, the company that handled the machines, blamed these problems on McAfee anti-virus software.
From a computer programming standpoint, having anti-virus software on an electronic voting machine doesn't make sense because the machine shouldn't be accessing the Internet in a way that would leave it open to virus attacks. While there are a lot of ways that viruses can propagate, ultimately the computer still has to download an executable file and run it, which is something that no election machine should do in normal operation. Rather than use anti-virus software, it makes more sense to simply disable the downloading of files, which is very doable. (Or, if the machine might need to receive hotfixes during operation, require that all executable files be signed by the manufacturer with something like ECDSA.)
There's a principle in computer science that having more layers of defense is always better than having fewer. This is true, but one should take care not to introduce defenses against a nonexistent adversary when doing so might impede normal function. The comic makes an analogy to a teacher who reassures you that he always wears a condom when teaching. Theoretically it's always good to have protection, but the situation where a condom is useful shouldn't arise during class. The comment is more likely to make people worried about why the condom is there and what purpose it's serving.
The title text refers to 153: Cryptography.
- Premier Election Solutions (formerly Diebold) has blamed Ohio voting machine errors on problems with the machines' McAfee antivirus software.
- Cueball: Wait. "Antivirus software"? On voting machines? You're doing it wrong.
- [Friend enters the frame and speaks to Cueball.]
- Friend: Why? Security is good, right?
- Cueball: Of course. But, well-
- Cueball: Imagine you're at a parent-teacher conference, and the teacher reassures you that he always wears a condom while teaching.
- Friend: Ah. Strictly speaking, it's better than the alternative.
- Cueball: -Yet someone is clearly doing their job horribly wrong.