Hari is in jail :(

Hari Prasad

Last winter I was in India to research electronic voting machines there. I was part of a team with Hari Prasad from India and some people from his company NetIndia and Prof. Alex Halderman from the US with some of his students. We had access to a voting machine and we proved that electronic voting machines (called EVMs in India) are just as insecure there as they are anywhere else. Which is not all that surprising, except the Election Commission of India was making a whole brouhaha out of their machines being somehow “untamperable” and “perfect”.

It’s a pretty clear-cut case as these things go. We showed that it was possible to hack the machines in a variety of ways and that there were fundamental problems with transparency revolving, yet again, around unpublished software (that in this particular case cannot be audited, at all, by anyone !). We made a video and we wrote a scientific paper that will be presented at the CCS conference this fall. So we were right and they were wrong. Yet another case of the emperor wearing no clothes.

Except this emperor lives in India. So this emperor doesn’t simply run home in shame to get dressed. This emperor has his soldiers arrest the scoundrel that dared say he was naked.

Yesterday morning at 05:30, cops from Mumbai came to Hyderabad to arrest Hari Prasad. He was taken to Mumbai by road. My friend and colleague Alex Halderman has written a much more extensive piece on the circumstances. Read it. It includes audio of a phone conversation with Hari as he arrives in Mumbai, still in the car with the cops and miraculously still able to use his cellphone. (It was taken from him moments later.)

All of this makes me pause at the fact in some countries the truth has a much longer road to travel and that people in those countries are exposed to some very real personal risks for speaking out. There are democracies where finding out how the votes are counted is not merely frowned upon but actually dangerous.

The Indian blog IndianEVM.com has documents, commentary and much more updates on what’s going on. Hari showed the people of his country how secure their elections are. He needs to be commended and his technical expertise needs to be drawn upon to help safeguard future elections. He does not belong in jail. Please help spread the word. If you know journalists or other influential people in India, you might want to let them know that this is happening.

16 thoughts on “Hari is in jail :(”

  1. normally for any electronic item you can break up in pieces , hack it and modify its normal processing. so it does not mean that for every thing such things will be happened. That electronic machine is officially approved, lot of securtiy m…esures have been taken care to built the voting machine. it is saving lot of indian money and time. Some racialist lost the election in center, so that does not mean that there is some thing wrong with the voting machine. There is problem with fundamentalist themselves. Their minds to be set right. Because majority of the people have voted them out.

  2. Actually lot of security is provided and also at election time all people are alert. And also prominent Indian Institute have taken part in the making of EVM’s. Though it is a serious issue. India authorities have to take steps and be alert, I do not thing Our EVM’s are less secure.

  3. Rop, thanks for the info.

    Perhaps, you and Alex Halderman could issue a press release so that the authorities have your side of the arrest as well?

  4. We commend Harriji’s effort in bringing to light the fact that EVMs are not tamper-proof.It is right a huge amount of money is spent in conducting elections in India. But that is worth spending as that guarantees, to a great extent, free fair elections.

  5. I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I’m shocked to see commenters here attempt to cloud the issue with illogical defenses of the quality of Indian EVMs. Right now, somebody is in jail for their scientific research. There’s time to cast aspersions (however unjustified) on the content and motivations of that research once they’re out of jail.

  6. Meeraj:

    > That electronic machine is officially approved, lot of securtiy mesures
    > have been taken care to built the voting machine. it is saving lot of
    > indian money and time.

    If you haven’t already, please see our video and read the scientific paper both linked in this article. There are many _very_ serious problems with the technology and the Election Commission of India is not acknowledging any of these problems. In my mind the secrecy surrounding the software and the fact that the ECI themselves cannot even see what’s in there is a big problem. If you disagree, I’d love to see you explain why.


    > Actually lot of security is provided and also at election time all
    > people are alert.

    Being alert helps only if there is something to observe, right?

    By posting these comments to this post at this time it looks as if you are saying that it is somehow OK for Hari to be in prison because you have some level of trust in these EVMs. If that’s not how you feel, I think you should speak out. It’s important that the authorities realize that people on both sides of the debate over whether these machines are trustworthy think Hari needs to get out of jail. Today.

  7. The research involved had a very fundamental premise that was flawed i.e. that physical access to the EVM is very easy to have, and that tampered EVMs can be taken in and out of government warehouses very easily, and that corrupt officials or criminals with inside access could easily influence the result. Makes for a great academic paper, but in the real world absolutely no system is invulnerable to corrupt insiders, including paper ballots. What the EC has done is to build in multiple checks and balances at various stages to make the system redundant as much as possible, and improve it from the previous paper ballot system. To claim that all of them will fail simultaneously is a smear job. Can you provide a probability estimate at least for a complete systemic failure, from manufacture, to storage, to use, to vote counting?

    In the western world it will draw a lot of eyeballs, and the narrative of a 3rd world government trying to hide something will immediately catch on. But what has the EC exactly done? Physical protection of the EVM is a cornerstone of the system. And it has filed an FIR against a person who has illegally acquired one to protect the system it has in place. Can Veta point to any instance of research done to expose the vulnerabilities of EVMs abroad based on illegally acquired hardware?

    If it were so sure that EVMs were vulnerable, then why did it have to resort to illegally breaking the exact system the EC has put in place. India has a functioning judicial system independent of the EC, then why didnt Veta follow the legal route to get the access it wanted. Demanding improvements to the EVM based process, and illegally acquiring one to make physical hardware alterations are entirely different propositions. Can Veta demonstrate how an EVM can be removed, altered, resealed and put back into a voting booth, and the voted recorded then be counted? It is very easy to put a lot of if and buts in an ACM paper.

  8. I am an Indian and feel ashamed at the police action. Thanks for this post. As you have correctly pointed out in a reply to a commentator, whether EVMs can be hacked or not is not the question in this case. A researcher has been framed and this is an attack on the freedom of research. New Delhi TV (India’s leading TV channel) just aired the story from which I googled and reached your blog. I hope media and public pressure will force the authorities to release Mr Hari Prasad. While I will do my bit as a common man, please do send your side of the story to the Indian media as your words will carry more weight. Indian media is very active and they will highlight the issue if you can provide them some inputs.

  9. Got here same way as Roy, nice publicity these guys getting on Indian news Channels

    I am not convinced, saw the video
    So you need to have the Display removed,
    install a bluetooth radio,
    install a new chip with new program code
    and what not with it physically
    Nice mobile app though, any-links for that? 🙂

    And then it end up saying “This Settles the debate”
    If it settles it then well we must get rid of them all, since there is nothing to discuss now?
    Thats total and utter BS, you don’t invite a debate by ridiculing the argument with shit like that,
    “That Settles it” that was just stupid every time i heard that.

    A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and all things these guys mention in this video ends up with a corrupt insider, against which there is no full proof solution.
    Indian Election Admission doesn’t say the officials are tamper proof or do they,

    Bottomline: With hook or crook anything can be messed up.

    Overall Indian EVM is still better than paper (plus all those trees that’ll be need for us 714 million official voters are saved)
    And still better than US (be it Florida paper fiasco or electronic)

    Indian Evm’s are not Networked unless all 2 million of them are tampered with bluetooth radios (this is just messed up thinking.) i still have faith in the election result, Besides Indian Election Commission is the least corrupt (if not at all) of any Indian institute, even politicians are scared of them.

  10. I meant election commission not admission (that was weired)
    and apologies for other typos, long post so it happened,
    No edit function available for the comments 🙁

  11. I think we are missing the point in the above thread. There is a person who has done some research and proven that EVM can be tampered. And apparently, for proving this he is being chased by the authorities. This, in my opinion is not acceptable.
    The fact that whether EVMs can be physically accessible to conduct a forgery is another one. The researcher does not comment on that anyways. The research is on tamperproofness of EVMs and not the process with which Election Commision physically guards it..

    Then there is the point of rigging the polls. When there were no EVMs, the polls were still rigged amidst strict security measures. So why should one assume that it may not happen anymore. Coupled with the fact that some people can get through the physical security protocols and that EVMs can be tampered with, we as Indian atleast should debate the topic…..

  12. The above comments proclaiming their belief in EVM are illogical.

    Are these people suggesting that it is a crime to get hold of an EVM to prove that it can be hacked?

    Is it not possible to steal an EVM by unscrupulous elements and start tampering with the system?

    What Hariprasad has done is what the hackers do. Hackers contribute to better a system by proving that they can break into it. Why not take Hariprasad’s contribution in its positive sense and better the EVM (now that it is proven that it has weaknesses).

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