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Friday, June 21, 2013

1982 E-Voting Systems in Science Fiction

I was reading a science fiction book, “The Stainless Steel Rat for President”, by Harry Harrison [1], and came across a passage that I found interesting and, given that the book was written in 1982, surprising.

An opposition candidate has discovered that there was fraud in an election, which was conducted on computers. He quotes from the planet’s constitution [2]:

Due to the nature of electronic voting and due to the necessity of assuring that the voting is always recorded with utmost accuracy and due to the invisibility of the votes once they have been recorded in the voting machine, ...

I found that a remarkably perceptive, and also a very succinct, statement of a key problem with computerized voting systems. To me, that this statement was made in a book that appeared in 1982, makes it even more remarkable.

By the way, the passage goes on to say that if it is proven beyond doubt that the record of votes in a single voting machine is altered, then the election is null and void, and a new one must be conducted using paper and ballot boxes, and no subsequent election can use the computerized voting machines until the newly-elected President has them investigated.


  1. Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Bantam Books, New York, NY, USA (1982).
  2. ibid., p. 166

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jeffrey Hunker: A Personal Memory

My friend and colleague, Jeffrey Hunker, passed away Friday. This was unexpected, and stunning.

Jeffrey in a dark shirt at NSPW 2009, in Oxford, England.

What follows is not an obituary; others can write about the minutiae of his life, and of his many accomplishments, better than I. These are simply some of my memories.

I met Jeffrey some time in the 1990s, at (I believe) a workshop on incident response. Alan Paller, a mutual friend, introduced us. At the time, Jeffrey was the director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (the CIAO), and if memory serves me correctly also on the National Security Council. (I may be off on the dates — he was on the NSC, but it may have been after the meeting.)

Jeffrey struck me as very friendly and willing to discuss various aspects of security. He gave a good talk at the workshop.

We reconnected in the mid-2000s, at a meeting for the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection (I3P); he was the representative for Carnegie-Mellon, and I for UC Davis. Our interests complemented each others’. Jeffrey knew quite a bit about technology, and far more about politics, how governments worked and interacted with one another, and about national security — topics I was very interested in. I knew a lot about the technology he was interested in, and I was learning about the other aspects he was an expert in. So we became friends, and colleagues.

Jeffrey was very good-natured, and seemed to be constantly amused at life. He was a joy to work with; he was very perceptive, and could get to the heart of an issue very quickly. He also asked questions that caused us to look at something in a new way. Talking to him was usually exciting, and I looked forward to it.

Our work on attribution sprang from a workshop on the Global Environment for Network Innovation (GENI) project, held in Davis. He was one of the attendees, and joined several others to come to my house for a small get-together; then we all went to dinner. He was charming to my wife Holly, and she immediately liked him.

That workshop also produced the only time I ever saw him irritated with me. He, another friend and colleague, and I were discussing attribution, and we decided to meet at 8am, before the workshop workday, to consider some ideas. Well, I overslept, and our friend was also late — and Jeffrey had been up since 6am working on the ideas. He quickly forgave us, though.

The work wound up in a paper on what attribution requirements the future Internet might require. His political expertise combined with our technical expertise to develop what I thought were interesting (and somewhat unexpected) results. We chose a rather impish title for the paper: “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Packets”. It was great fun to see him handle the questions about the title at the workshop — he ended up suggesting that the questioners ask any parent of a teenage girl!

Since then, Jeffrey and I worked together on topics ranging from attribution to the insider problem. Indeed, when he passed away, we had just completed a short write-up on whether the Internet could be controlled, and we were sending it around to see if we could get funding to explore that issue in more depth.

Jeffrey could take a complex political and governance issue and explain it in very simple terms. His book, Creeping Failure: How We Broke the Internet and What We Can Do to Fix It, did a nice job of explaining how we wound up with the Internet we have today, and how the problems arose and were magnified during its growth. His comparison of this to the evolution of cities was quite enlightening, and one I’d never heard of before.

He also enjoyed talking about books and history. I remember when we were at a workshop in New Hampshire. I was telling him about a book I was reading (The Illuminatus! Trilogy), and he seemed to enjoy the idea behind the book; I recommended it very highly. The same happened a couple of years later, when we were talking about counterfactual history. I told him about another book, Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, which is an alternate history of Columbus' voyage. I hope he did read them; he would have enjoyed them very much.

I remember him being the general chair of the Workshop on Governance of Technology, Information, and Policies (GTIP) held in 2009. There were problems with the organization of the workshop, through no fault of anyone in particular. What they were are not relevant, but what is relevant is how Jeffrey adapted to the problems and out of them moulded a very successful workshop. His vision and skill in working with people, and his determination, made the workshop successful.

I spoke with Jeffrey on the Wednesday before he died; he told me he had been in the hospital for some time, which was why he was so hard to get hold of, but he thought he was getting better. But he wasn’t sure, and was still very, very tired. So we talked a bit, made plans to finish up a project we were working on, and agreed to talk on Thursday. I called at the prearranged time, and he told me he needed to rest, so could we talk on Friday? Of course, I said; and called him then. He didn’t answer. He never will.

There is an expression we use when we talk about people who are very, very good deep inside; we say they have a good soul. He had a good soul. My life was much richer for knowing Jeffrey — both professionally and, more importantly, personally. I will miss him very much.