The Australian government has a serious issue with keeping their computer systems in order.
You likely recall the 2016 census fiasco. That’s when the Australian Bureau of Statistics website crashed, unable to handle the traffic it should have been designed for.
Then there are the numerous cases of government computers being hacked. Most recently it was the computer systems of both major parties.
In the latest computer debacle, a flaw in the Swiss e-voting software being used for the New South Wales election has led to an urgent fix being undertaken less than two weeks before election date.
And yet, the NSW Electoral Commission insist the iVote platform — running internet and telephone voting — will be ready by the 23 March deadline.
A fortnight left to solve the issue
The error became apparent during early voting, which opened on Monday, causing huge delays at many pre-poll centres across the state, as AAP report.
After performing test exercises on the Swiss software, NSW’s electoral body confirmed ‘an issue has been identified that is also present in the iVote system’.
Scytl, the company supplying the faulty software, have said that they are ‘delivering a patch which will be tested and implemented shortly to address this matter.’
A spokesperson for the electoral commission noted it was good ‘to have the opportunity to address this issue ahead of election day’, adding they ‘remain confident in the security of the system’.
But Greens member David Shoebridge is concerned, saying ‘if the Electoral Commission’s computer system can’t cope with pre-poll, what hope does it have dealing with election day?’
Error compromises voters’ anonymity
The part of the software that is malfunctioning is called ‘mixnet’, which randomises the order of electronic votes before they’re decrypted and counted.
This ensures an electronic vote can’t be traced back to a particular individual, meaning it remains a secret ballot just like in-person votes.
But the failure of this system, as tests have revealed, means voting anonymity could be compromised.
However, because the mixnet machine isn’t connected to any other computer system and is securely stored within the Electoral Commission quarters, the commission insists that ‘for this weakness to be an issue, a person would need to gain access to the physical machine…They would need all the right credentials and the right code to alter the software.’
‘Our processes reduces this risk as we specifically separate the duties of people on the team and control access to the machine to reduce the potential for an insider attack.’
Issue after issue
Mixnet aside, performance issues regarding the electronic roll ark-off system were also detected on Wednesday, causing outages at early voting centres.
Backup arrangements have been arranged, but this may cause delays if they have to be activated.
It certainly doesn’t sound like the problem has been solved.
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