[OpenBIOS] Secure BIOS for voting?
SAVIOCvs at aol.com
SAVIOCvs at aol.com
Tue Jul 23 13:35:14 CEST 2013
The three responses I've seen so far were all negative, but also puzzling
to me. I'll try to address the key points in the response that is copied
below, as well as those in the other two responses.
(1) Why floppies? -- (a) Because they are limited in storage, and
non-electronic. The smaller the memory, the harder it is to hide something
malicious in it, and the easier to check it. (b) Because they are inexpensive.
Any entity wishing to verify voting results needs one memory device for
every voting machine.
(2) Aren't floppies unreliable? -- No. Since I started keeping track of
my public voting demos in 2002, I have used 992 diskettes without a single
failure between starting voting and archiving results. (That's not 992
different new diskettes; each is used over and over again unless a check done at
startup reveals possible unreliability.)
(3) Aren't floppy drives obsolete? -- No. USB-connected floppy drives are
readily available for about $15, and computers can boot from them.
(4) BIOS averages 8 MB? -- WOW! I still don't know how big OpenBIOS is,
but I was hoping for something a bit closer to the 8 KB of the original IBM
PC. The capabilities of a 386 computer are sufficient for my voting
system. Is OpenBIOS really so huge? Does a BIOS have to be?
(5) Hypervisor? Virtual machine? Address remapping? Infectious native
BIOS? -- If a modern computer has no hard drive connected, what happens when
it boots from a floppy? There is a boot sector on the diskette (which is
verified by hash code); doesn't that control what happens next? Why can't
the floppy contents take control of the computer?
Obviously, I'm no BIOS expert. I'd appreciate recommendations of good
texts or tutorials to bring me up to speed.
In a message dated 7/19/2013 9:04:29 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
Nick.Couchman at seakr.com writes:
>>> On 2013/07/19 at 06:01, <SAVIOCvs at aol.com> wrote:
> I developed a voting system (see _www.SAVIOC.com_
> that uses ordinary old PCs, yet is more transparent and trustworthy
> anything else in use today. All software, including the operating
> (FreeDOS) boots from a floppy that can be verified by hash code. The
> never uses the hard drive, and doesn't even need one. Trustworthiness
> from people with different interests being able to prevent each other
> doing anything fraudulent. I think the only significant potential
> vulnerability is that someone with physical access to the machines
> install a
> malicious BIOS. Learning about the OpenBIOS project gave me hope of
> overcoming that vulnerability.
> (1) Is my hope justified? Can a PC be booted from a floppy that
> completely replaces the native BIOS in RAM, and then loads FreeDOS?
> possibility of a malicious BIOS be made a non-issue?)
> If all answers are YES, then the remaining very basic questions become
Perhaps this is a digression, but why a floppy? If you're using old
hardware, that's fine, but at some point you probably want to use modern
hardware, and I don't know of a modern hardware system that comes with a floppy
drive, anymore. Furthermore, my many years of experience with floppy disks
tells me that they are unreliable - very prone to failures of a variety of
types (dirty heads, physical damage to the medium, etc.). Many of these
types of failures mean mis-reads, which means bad checksums and failures in
the security model you're trying to implement. If you're looking for
something compatible with very old hardware - hardware that does not support
booting from USB flash drives - I'd recommend finding some older IDE flash chips
(disk on chip) that you can use, instead. These are probably pretty
cheap, now, and should give you the capacity and reliability that you won't get
with floppy disks.
> (2) Roughly how much space on the floppy would be required?
You can build the OpenBIOS tree and see how large the binary is. I don't
remember off the top of my head, so I can't tell you. Many modern BIOS
implementations are several MB - I believe 8MB is the average BIOS size (not
openBIOS, just BIOS in general), with some as large as 12MB. This presents
another problem when using floppies...you'd need multiple ones.
> (3) What downloads would I need? OpenBIOS AND OpenFirmware AND
> Anything else?
Probably just OpenBIOS.
> (4) How are they downloaded?
> http://www.openfirmware.info/index.php/Downloads displays a page
> beginning, "This page has been deleted." All other links that imply
> of downloading reach a page headlined, "The page cannot be displayed".
SVN check-out of the current source tree and build. Decently modern
versions are also included with Qemu, IIRC.
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Free your System - May the Forth be with you
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