Thread on security of EVMs with VVPAT

The opposition parties have been ridiculed for their for their diatribes against EVMs. And it is indeed true that EVMs have become more secure after introduction of VVPAT @spokespersonECI @narendramodi @amitshah
But the key question is: Do we have a system that a ruling party will not be able to rig, even with the help of foreign intelligence agencies. The answer, unfortunately, is NO. There are still some dangerous gaps
And there are also some simple design and procedural changes which can greatly reduce the dangers. Let us elaborate
Do note that the EVM is only assembled, and not manufactured in India. The micro-controller chips at the core of the EVM are imported from two foreign companies - Microchip of USA and Renesas of Japan
Until recently, the software used to be installed at the premises of these foreign manufacturers. The EVM assemblers - BEL and ECIL - used to do "functional" or "black-box" testing, but were unable to verify the binary code on Indian soil
Apparently the process has now improved, to some extent. The code is now installed in India, and there is some verification of the installed binary…
However, this does not eliminate the possibility of Trojans embedded at lower levels of the Hardware-Software stack. The following article gives an indication of the dangers -…
It is extremely routine for foreign intelligence agencies to intercept hardware shipments to targeted customers. An opportunity to implant Trojans in another nation's voting machines is too tempting to ignore…
Also, the precautions taken by the EC do not eliminate the possibility of compromised staff at ECIL and BEL
How might an embedded Trojan operate? It could be triggered by a special key combination. For example, simultaneously press the last two keys on the ballot unit, and thereafter press the key that you want to favour
Such a Trojan could ensure that the paper slip printed and displayed to the voter reflects the voter's actual choice, while the vote recorded in the control unit is manipulated
The EC claims that EVMs are secure because of its "randomization" procedures. EVM stored in the district HQs are allotted randomly to constituencies within the district, and then randomized a 2nd time to allot them to polling booths within a constituency
The EC says that EVMs are secure against Trojans because the key to be favoured cannot be known in advance.

However, for parliamentary elections, an entire district may be in one constituency, which makes the randomization useless
In any case, the Trojan we have described above can be activated by an agent accessing the EVM ballot unit as a voter, at which point of time the key to be favoured is known to the attacker
Such an attack can be carried out in barely a second or two, and chances of detection during the attack are low, since the ballot unit is shielded from view
It is true that such an attack can be detected by counting the VVPAT slips. However, as per current EC procedures, counting of VVPAT slips is done for only 1 randomly chosen booth in a constituency (which may have about 1000 booths, in case of parliamentary elections)
In closely contested constituencies, it may be necessary to attack only a handful of booths, and reliable agents may be recruited from vote banks. Hence the chances of getting away with such electoral fraud are very good
Thus, what is required to stage an electoral coup is: (1) to arrange for Trojans to be inserted by the foreign manufacturers, possibly with assistance of foreign intelligence agencies, and (2) get agents to trigger the Trojan in chosen booths
To counter such attacks, one approach would be to allow the 1st runner-up candidate to choose say 5 booths for counting, after the booth-wise tallies are declared. Additionally, the 2nd runner-up may be allowed to choose another 3 booths
The losing candidates will naturally choose the booths where the votes recorded in the control units are not as per their expectations.

Note that such a precaution can be taken only if booth-wise tallies are declared
There is a proposal to use a "totalizer" instrument, by which only the combined tallies of the constituency will be announced. If such totalizers are used, the losing candidates will have no basis on which to choose booths for verification
There are PILs pending for the introduction of such totalizers. It may be true that use of totalizers can protect voters of a booth against retaliation by politicians. But citizens and political parties need to be vigilant about the security consequences
As mentioned above, a Trojan may very well operate without creating any noticeable discrepancy in the VVPAT slips. But still, it should be easier for voters to object, if they notice any discrepancy in the printed VVPAT slip:
BJP is strongly supporting the present system seemingly without being aware of these vulnerabilities. If the BJP finds itself in the opposition in the future, it's present stand may make it impossible for it to demand precautions at that time
70 years after independence, such laxness about these basic, crucial security issues may well lead to re-enslavement and re-colonization. The price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance.

Comments and criticisms from electronics and computer security experts are welcome
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