Earlier this year, Indian IT security researcher Hari Prasad co-authored a report saying that the electronic voting machines used on the subcontinent are vulnerable to tampering.
This weekend, Prasad was arrested for refusing to reveal the anonymous source that gave him an e-voting machine to test, according to another of the report’s authors, University of Michigan computer science professor J Alex Halderman.
According to Halderman, Prasad had offered to help India’s Election Commission assess the security of the e-voting machines, but the Commission had refused him and other security experts access to the devices.
“In February of this year, an anonymous source approached Hari and offered a machine for him to study,” Halderman wrote on his blog yesterday. “This source requested anonymity, and we have honored this request.”
Prasad, Halderman and third author Rop Gonggrijp, a Dutch hacker and campaigner against e-voting machines, claimed to find a number of vulnerabilities in the machine. “There are many ways that dishonest election insiders or other criminals with physical access could tamper with the machines to change election results,” Halderman wrote.
Indian authorities have denied the claim that the devices are insecure. “[Electronic voting machines] are practically totally tamper proof, but political parties are theoretically saying this or that could happen,” India’s chief election commissioner SY Quraishi told a television news program last week. “Every possible mischief, we are trying to take them all out. We are making technological improvements all the time.”
Digital rights campaign group the Electronic Frontier Foundation has condemned Prasad’s reported arrest. "Rather than attempting to persecute Prasad and the anonymous source, the government should be focusing its attention and resources on the real problem: electronic voting machines with no mechanism for accountability," said the organisation’s senior staff attorney Marcia Hofmann.