Meeting Information

Cybersecurity and Software Quality for Elections

November 15, 2023
American Center for Physics (and available on Zoom)
College Park, MD

Date: Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Title: Cybersecurity and Software Quality for Elections
Speaker: Dr. Duncan Buell, Chair Emeritus, NCR Chair in Computer Science and Engineering, University of South Carolina and Member 2019-2021, Board of Voter Registration and Elections, Richland County SC.
Time: 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Location: American Center for Physics, One Ellipse Drive, College Park, MD (and available on Zoom)

Abstract: Willie Sutton is apocryphally quoted as saying that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is”. In the 21 st century, things of value are almost more likely to exist on computers than anywhere else, and securing computer systems is thus crucial to financial and political stability. This is perhaps nowhere more important than in American elections; one can hardly imagine a more important target than the election of November 2020, and now the upcoming 2024 election. This is especially important due to the huge difficulty in guaranteeing that software does only and exactly what is supposed to do. Given that the data used in elections and resulting from elections is stored on computers, the security, integrity, and correctness of that data is a high priority. Officials repeatedly assert that election systems are not connected to the internet; these assertions have, in jurisdictions across the United States, repeatedly been shown to be false. In this talk we will trace the paths that election data take in configuring an election and producing its results, and we will describe the vulnerabilities that exist that thus require proper security measures. We emphasize that our experience has been that election officials are sincere and well-meaning, but that election computer security is difficult and is especially so given the demand for security professionals, the salary constraints on government employees, and the localized nature of American elections. We have never seen patterns that would indicate fraud or malfeasance, but we have seen repeated instances of errors that would seem to come from poorly done software.

Biography: Duncan A. Buell received the Ph.D. degree in 1976 in mathematics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was an assistant and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Louisiana State University. From 1986 to 2000 he worked on high performance computing and computational mathematics at the Institute for Defense Analyses in support of the National Security Agency, and in 1997 he was part of a team that received a Meritorious Unit Citation from Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet for "a stunning achievement" that required the largest single computation ever made in the US intelligence community. He joined the University of South Carolina in October 2000 as a professor and served nine years as chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering and a year as interim dean of the college. He has research interests in electronic voting, digital humanities, text analysis, and computer science education. He was appointed in March 2019 to the Board of Voter Registration and Elections of Richland County, South Carolina, leaving only when he moved out of state.

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