Concerns raised over election software safety

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The software that will be used to count votes in the upcoming municipal elections is still not safe. Hackers can use the vulnerable software to influence the election results, experts that examined the software told RTL Nieuws.

Ethical hacker Sijmen Ruwhof discovered more than 50 vulnerabilities in the software. He calls ten of them 'high risk'. 

Last year Ruwhof also concluded that the software - called OSV - is vulnerable to attacks. "The average iPad is more secure than the Dutch voting system", Ruwhof said at the time.This prompted former Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk to order the votes in the parliamentary election counted by hand. 

Kasja Ollongren, the current Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, decided to use the OSV software in the upcoming municipal elections, against the advice of experts, according to the broadcaster. Municipalities upload the results of local polling stations on the OSV, which counts the votes and bundles them into a document. According to Ollongren, the new version of OSV is sufficiently protected against hackers. To prevent manipulation, computers running the software will not be connected to the internet. 

This extra security measure is not sufficient, security expert Arjen Kamphuis said to RTL. "A smart attacker can of course also hack all the municipality computers a month in advance, when they're still on the internet."

The Ministry of Home Affairs points out that the election results can be checked by anyone afterwards, referring to the polling stations' official reports and the files of imported votes. The Ministry expects that using the software will lead to fewer errors in the counting process than if the votes were counted by hand.

The Electoral Council acknowledged that the system is in need of renewal, but calls the vulnerabilities and risks "small and manageable", according to the broadcaster. The software is only used as support and "you can always fall back on paper results", the Council said. According to the Electoral Council, there are sufficient safeguards to ensure the elections are safe and reliable.

The Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, asked Minister Ollongren for clarification on this matter.