March 03, 2012

A fantastic solution for falsifying elections in Russia

This has to do with presidential elections in Russia which are due tomorrow.

Just as with senate elections last December, Russians are getting ready for grossly falsified farce. Those expectations came out true last December and gave those who were watching tons of fun, such as total 146% of votes broadcast on TV, incriminating cellphone youtube flicks officially declared having been filmed by criminals in underground bunkers, and hundreds of what courts decided to be "technical counting mistakes" all in favour of the winning party.

Now the saga continues. This time the question is whether Putin becomes a dark lord for the next 12 years or something else happens.

Those of you who are interested in elections in a dictatorship state, can check out how army and police can be ordered to vote for such and such, how state employees (a synonym for "the poorest") can be threatened to do the same, how psychiatric clinics vote, how all the TV channels can ever display the same candidate, how protest rallies against unfair elections are mirrored the next day pro-Putin by having thousands of random people brought in by buses from all around, each paid $30 just to stand there, all the fun paid by budget money.

But the panacea emerged last month - web cameras !

A camera had to be installed at each voting site pointing at the slot box to which all the ballots are thrown. This is officially said to be the end of election corruption as "anyone can watch for himself that everything is in order with Russian elections".

The largest Russian communications company Rostelecom (of which Putin is presumably a stakeholder) has been assigned to install 300000 cameras, the total project cost being around half a billion dollars drained from the state budget.

I thought I would pass posting about how ineffective a solution this is, but as I'm on it, I'll say a few words.

Even in perfect conditions, the camera only shows the moment of throwing in the filled ballot. Even theoretically it thwarts two threats - one known as "throw in" when a single person throws in a stack of pre-filled ballots, and the other known as "carousel" when a group of person moves from one site to another voting at each using false id's (the faces can theoretically be cross-matched).

But really only the short-sighted can believe that cameras are an answer to anything.

First, it is proves nothing. Under Russian laws video footage is not an evidence. Furthermore, even if something is caught on tape and is passed down to a court, it is the same court as the last time, and it declares it to be a fake made by terrorists to discredit the state.

Second, noone is to ever watch it. It is 300000 days of hi-res video or about 5000 terabytes of data. Even such archive is made accessible to anyone over the Internet (and never has a wonder of a quality official web site appeared in Russian Internet before), it is 800 man/years to watch, therefore ten thousand people can watch in about a month, eating up 15 gigabit of traffic.

And if you were still unsure, the real stuff happens outside the camera views.

See, elections are nothing but their announced results. Therefore in the simplest case, in a few days after the elections the central election committee simply announces that Putin has won. How can anyone can disprove it ? For the results to be discarded and re-elections initiated, there must be sufficient evidence, and court must decide. And you know about Russian courts already.

The other thing about the elections is that the process of counting is an upstream aggregation of numbers. There are many places where those numbers can be manipulated.

Also, the paper trail is lost - the ballots are long since thrashed and the only remaining evidence is going to be the protocols signed by committees at each site after hand counting the ballots.

This is rather trivial excercise in applied security, so like I said I felt no obligation for this post. But then the Internet delivered something so striking that the great amazement forced me.

Practical security issues, I've seen a lot, but this takes the cake. It is simple, ingenious and extremely effective. There is a way to falsify all the counting protocols at once with noone ever noticing. And it has to do with web cameras. Interested ?

See, the web cameras are electronic devices and the members of the committees at each site all over Russia must be instructed how to use them. There is a printed manual, over which each member must be briefed and sign for it the last page. Everything fine so far ?

Now, behold !

The page at which they sign for the briefing is identical to the page at which they sign in the counting protocol. And accidentally, this page for signatures is actually a blank A3 sheet folded and clipped to a regular A4 instruction book. Therefore immediately after the briefing we have a blank A3 sheet with nothing on it except for the signatures of the counting committee at exact same place where they should be if that sheet was a counting protocol. You take the signed page, print over anything you want and there you have it - the official vote couting protocol signed by the election committee members in person.

This is fantastic.

The original report is here.

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