Japan has tried using e-voting in recent local elections but security failures have cast doubts on its viability. Hiroki Hisamitsu, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon's MSIT-IS program in Kobe, performed a comprehensive study of the e-voting machines and operational processes during real elections in Japan.
Conducted under the guidance of Carnegie Mellon CyLab Japan faculty Keiji Takeda, the project and its findings have gotten major attention from the Japanese parliament.
"To my knowledge, no one had ever analyzed the security risks of e-voting in Japan," said Hisamitsu, who viewed the research as an opportunity to contribute to society's understanding of the relatively new practice.
After analyzing all e-voting machines currently available in Japan and all operational processes in place during real elections, Hisamitsu noted that e-voting has both advantages and disadvantages.
"If no one pointed out its existing risks, the society may have suffered serious damage without notice," he said.
Takeda explained that even though the voting machine itself has a protection mechanism, the security of the voter registration process and the vote counting process depends heavily on the manual process of local poll workers and the weak technical protection mechanisms on those machines.
"We found that there are possibilities that a malicious insider can easily manipulate an actual vote result by inserting crafted data or programs during the processes, and there is no way to verify the result," Takeda said.
Their findings were presented at both domestic and international conferences and reported by newspapers and online news sites. Because of concerns raised by the study, the Japanese government chose to postpone the legislation of a new law which accepts the use of e-voting for national elections.
According to Takeda, the interdisciplinary nature of e-voting is a perfect match for Carnegie Mellon's competency in the areas of science and information technology and information security.
"Although the MSIT-IS program is relatively new, outcomes from the program are already having a strong impact on the society and are changing the nation's future," Takeda said.
In collaboration with Hyogo Institute of Information Education Foundation, Carnegie Mellon's Information Networking Institute (INI) began offering the MSIT-IS program at Carnegie Mellon CyLab Japan in Kobe in the fall of 2005. The degree is a joint initiative between the INI and the H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management.
The MSIT-IS program prepares students to become leaders in information security by blending education in information security technology, business management and policy.
Photo (left to right): Toshizo Ido, Chairman, Hyogo Institute of Information Education Foundation & The Governor, Hyogo Prefecture; and Hiroki Hisamitsu