Finding a Security Flaw in Internet Voting is a Good Thing

Swiss law guarantees that every Swiss citizen has the right to vote, whether or not they currently live in the country. Overseas citizens have previously pushed for e-voting, arguing that postal methods are frequently delayed, making them unreliable. Votes are also a much more common occurrence in Switzerland, whose system of direct democracy calls for as many as a dozen national votes every two years.

Switzerland is not the only country to have consider online voting, but the threat of security scares or privacy problems, fueled by anti-Internet voting activists, have caused election officials to drop their plans. For example France and the U.K. dropped their Internet voting plans. In the United States, an email voting method, which they call Internet voting, is available to overseas service personnel in 25 states. However, in most of these states they must submit their ballots via email, which is more insecure than Internet voting. In some, they are actually required to sign a waiver giving up their privacy in order to vote by email. The one exception is the state of West Virginia, which engaged an Internet voting technology company, Voatz, to enable overseas Internet voting for military personnel. The implementation worked quite well, with dozens of military voters voting from dozens of countries, yes countries, not counties. Despite criticisms from the anti-Internet voting activists warning it was unsafe, the voting was secure, private, and verifiable.

The Swiss government is taking an innovative approach to Internet voting. Rather than wait for the normal criticisms from the anti-Internet voting activists, the country offered “bug bounties” of around $50,000 to any registered “white hat” hacker who could find vulnerabilities in its Internet-based e-voting system. The Swiss Post system for Internet voting was open for a dummy election between February 24th and March 24th, the length of a typical Swiss federal vote, during which time any registered “white hat” hackers were free to discover and report vulnerabilities. Thousands signed up to do so.

A top security expert last week published an article titled, “Critical Flaw in Swiss Internet Voting System”. I consider the “bug bounty” to be a great success. The flaw which was discovered was real, but one which some (including me) would consider a hypothetical flaw. It was real but not easily exploited. Few if any have the knowledge to challenge the expert’s logic for why the newly proposed Internet voting system should not be implemented in Switzerland. However, my view is the election should go on and be carefully monitored with regard to the flaw.

The basic problem I see is the anti-Internet voting activists are comparing the Swiss Internet voting system to a perfect system, which Switzerland (or any country) will never have. The Internet voting system should be compared to the old-fashioned paper-based error-prone system we use today. It is very far from perfect, and many millions of people do not get to vote because of it.

Security, privacy, and verifiability should not be ignored and finding and fixing vulnerabilities should be a top priority. Security experts should be listened to. Few, if any, persons have the knowledge to challenge the expert’s logic. However, we should all expect more than the sky is falling fears offered. In addition, security experts should offer suggestions on how to proceed with the least possible risk, but not necessarily zero risk. Otherwise, we continue to disenfranchise the millions who cannot vote because they can’t get to the polls or who believe a paper ballot may not get to the polling place on time or even be counted unless there is a tie. West Virginia and other trials have shown what is possible.

Tagged with: , , ,

The Internet in 1994 and Now

I had been following the Internet with great interest and enthusiasm beginning in 1992, and in 1994 became a co-founder of the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT. There were not many people familiar with the Internet or the fast-growing application called the Web, which many people at the time called the information superhighway. It was big news that year when the first known Web purchase took place: a pepperoni pizza with mushrooms and extra cheese from Pizza Hut. Also that year, the Clinton White House came online, and Yahoo! was created by Stanford University graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo. At the time, they named the site “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” The estimated number of Internet users in 1994 was 11 million.

In 2000, just 43% of internet users said they would miss going online “a lot,” if they lost access, 78% of internet users said they didn’t think it was stealing to download music from the Internet, and 40 million of the 83 million American Internet users had purchased a product online.

In 2004, 11% of American internet users followed the returns on election night online. The same year, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched (not a typo; that is what it was called back then). 1,200 Harvard students signed up within the first 24 hours, and Facebook went on to become the world’s biggest social networking site, with more than two billion users worldwide. Google started trading on the NASDAQ at $85 a share.

In 2008, 74% of internet users, which was then 55% of the entire U.S. adult population, said they went online during the presidential election to take part in or get news and information about the campaign. Just 19% of cellphone owners say they had gone online with their phones. Apple launched its App Store with 552 applications. Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo! for $44.6 billion, but the two companies could not agree on the purchase price. I was glad the purchase did not happen because the cultures were night and day different.

By 2013, the number of internet users had increased tenfold from 1999. The first billion was reached in 2005. The second billion in 2010. The third billion in 2014. The current number of users is 4.2 billion. Perhaps the most astonishing statistic is the number of Internet users in China. I remember when there were almost none. As of the end of 2018, the number had reached 829 million, more than double the entire population of the United States. Even more astounding is 817 million of the Chinese used a smartphone to access the internet, accounting for 98.6 percent of the total netizens.

According to Global Times, “There are still 562 million people in China isolated from the online world, with most living in rural regions. A low education level and insufficient internet surfing skills are the main obstacles blocking them from accessing the internet.” I have no doubt this will change. The dramatic increase in Internet use by the Chinese relates to the huge advances they are making in scientific research including robotics and artificial intelligence.

Tagged with: , , ,

The Library 100

OCLC Library 100

One of my affiliations is as a board member at OCLC Inc. in Dublin, OH. I am very proud of the work OCLC does as a global library cooperative. The organization supports thousands of libraries in making information more accessible and more useful to people around the world. OCLC provides shared technology services, original research, and community programs which help libraries meet the ever-evolving needs of their users, institutions, and communities. OCLC’s trademarked slogan is Because what is known must be shared.®

One of the many strengths of OCLC is its Research arm. It is one of the world’s leading centers devoted exclusively to the challenges facing libraries and archives. In a rapidly changing information technology environment, OCLC Research proves quite valuable to these organizations. One of the many tools OCLC Research uses and makes available to libraries is WorldCat. WorldCat is a bibliographic database which includes everything that’s available to users in libraries. It contains bibliographic information about books and journals, DVDs, historic photos, video games, musical scores, newspapers, webpages and many other items. It also includes unique items such as 2,700-year-old jewelry and 18th century soup bowls. I use WorldCat personally when I am writing a book and want to include a citation in the Notes section at the end of the book. (My Attitude series of books contains almost 900 bibliographic citations.) WorldCat will also show you where the nearest library is which holds a book you are interested in borrowing. Take a look at and you will get an idea of what it has. In total, WorldCat has approximately 445,000 bibliographic records and 2.75 billion holdings.

A recent project of OCLC Research was to use WorldCat to determine what makes a novel “great”. OCLC believes greatness can be measured by how many libraries have a copy on their shelves. Libraries offer access to trendy and popular books, but, they don’t keep them on the shelf if they’re not repeatedly requested over time. In order to find the top 100 novels of all time, OCLC Research looked at the holdings in thousands of libraries around the world using WorldCat. The result of the research is The Library 100. Check it out here. You may be surprised, as I was, about how many names you recognize and how many you have yet to read. I doubt if I will ever be able to read them all, but I just put the #1 novel on my Kindle. I will read Don Quixote as soon as I finish Zucked.

Tagged with: , , ,

Taking Care of The Environment

IBM research publishes an annual five year look at key trends it sees around the corner. There are many of them, but this year its report focused on related to innovations in the food supply chain – “from seed to shelf”. At a recent conference, IBM researchers made presentations about a variety of food-oriented initiatives including the future of farming, streamlining the transport and distribution of crops, improving food safety, reducing food waste, and ridding the sea of plastic waste.

Jeanette Garcia, a Master Inventor at IBM Research, discussed the need to improve the recycling of plastics. She said, “In the U.S., less than 10% of plastic waste is recycled.” “Plastics are everywhere, and it’s becoming an environmental disaster.”

Garcia noted that half of all plastic products become trash within a year. She cited a study which predicted by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Currently, more than 272 million metric tons of plastic are produced each year around the world. Twenty-five percent of the plastic contains PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a type of plastic commonly used in food packaging.

IBM researchers have created a catalytic chemical process called VolCat. This new technology can turn PET into a renewable resource. VolCat uses a combination of chemicals, heat, and pressure to reduce the amount of plastic, and ultimately the amount of waste. This new research is capable of breathing new life into old plastic. Over the next five years, Garcia predicted the new research could completely transform the way plastic is manufactured and, more importantly, how plastic is discarded.

Tagged with: , , ,

A Robotic Dog

Sony has been making robotic pets for more than 20 years. As technology has evolved, so has the robo-pup. The latest version of Sony’s Aibo, pronounced eye bo, became available in the United States at the beginning of 2019. Aibo could be perceived as a home automation device when you consider all of its sensors and cameras. In reality, it is nothing at all like a smart home device. The giveaway is the wagging tail and the way Aibo trots around your home. Aibo’s goal is not home security or automating your lights. In Japanese, Aibo means “pal” or “partner”, and its sole mission is companionship. A two year-old child will likely find Aibo a delightful addition to the family. Aibo may cause chronically ill seniors to think less about their aches, pains, and loneliness. Reports from reviewers of the robo-pup say a real dog or cat may not find Aibo at all interesting.

A companion Apple or Android mobile app enables you to set Aibo’s gender to male or female. This affects the pitch of Aibo’s voice and how he or she walks. You can also set the color of Aibo’s eyes, teach it new tricks, and even take photos with the camera in its nose. He or she can understand more than 50 voice commands. All of this and more is made possible by a plethora of technology components inside of the 12 inches tall, 12 inches long, 7 inches wide, 5 pound robot including a super-fast computer chip, OLED displays (eyes), sound speaker, four microphones, two cameras, a dozen sensors, and Wi-Fi. 

In terms of movement, Aibo has 22 degrees of freedom (DOF). The human body has 244. For example, our hands have 27 DOF. Each of our four fingers can move in four different ways. The thumb has five DOF, and the wrist has six. Aibo stands out versus any toy or consumer robot with its 22 DOF. Its head can move along three axes, one for the mouth, neck, and waist. Each leg (front and back paws) has three axes. Each ear has one DOF and the tail has two. 

The purpose of all the technology is to make Aibo seem like a real puppy. Reviewers all say that mission was accomplished. A review in TechCrunch said,

A long press of the power button on the collar wakes him up. He stirs slowly, from a near fetal position, his paws extending outward with a stretch. He acknowledges his limbs with a yawn and slowly stands, shaking himself out as though he’d just run through the sprinklers in the yard.

Aibo uses artificial intelligence and deep learning technology to remember 100 friends and family. He remembers what makes different people happy based on their reactions. As Aibo learns its environment and develops relationships, its personality becomes unique. As an owner, Aibo becomes uniquely your Aibo. A reviewer at c|net spent a week with Aibo at home. She said,

Aibo loves praise with a nice rub on the head, chin and back — or give him some positive verbal feedback. (“Good boy!”) Teach him tricks and watch him respond to voice commands. Cameras and sensors on his front side help the dog sense nearby people, as well as find his signature pink toy ball, bone and charging station. A camera near his bum points to the ceiling to map the layout of your home, so over time he learns how to get around.

Aibo connects to the Sony cloud which uses artificial intelligence to help Aibo become more and more real. The nice thing is you don’t have to take him for a walk several times a day. The only downside is the cost – Aibo sells for $2,900.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Page 2 of 392
1 2 3 4 392