Analysts call for hold on military e-voting

Security analysis of SERVE

A group of computer scientists is urging the Defense Department to abandon a plan to let overseas personnel cast absentee ballots over the Internet.

The system, called Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE), will be implemented in time for November's election, said DOD spokesman Glenn Flood.

Although security analysts who studied the system believe it could be vulnerable to hacking and alteration of results, DOD officials do not intend to change their plans.

"We have confidence that it will be safe and secure for the general election in November," he said. "We respect the work the team did, but these are issues we knew about."

The analysts include Avi Rubin, the Johns Hopkins University professor who publicized potential security hazards last year in electronic voting machines. They concluded that because SERVE uses Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system and standard Internet technologies, there is no way to make it secure.

Some states could potentially use the system for primary elections, although it won't be ready in time for the Feb. 3 primaries, he said. "It's their call," he said.

"The flaws are unsolvable because they are fundamental to the architecture of the Internet," said David Wagner, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California-Berkeley, and one of the researchers, in a written statement. "It's simply not secure enough for something as serious as the election of a government official."

The researchers are worried that if the early trials of SERVE are successful, federal and state governments will rush to expand its use, assuming that it will be secure.

"That's like saying you don't ever need to wear a seat belt because you drove to work without crashing the car this morning," Rubin said.

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