inside the man

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Security meets religion: hacking the papal election

Through a couple of accidents of history, information security and religion are two of my favorite things to think about. As a result, I cannot help but note Bruce Schneier's post today about hacking the papal election. The conclusion of the analysis is that the system is rather secure. Further, at the risk of putting words into Bruce's mouth, based on earlier postings to his blog (here and here, for example), it seems to be easier to crack the US presidential election than the papal election. That thought places an ironic smile upon my face.


RWM said...

A couple things come to mind as to why the papal system is less hackable than the US.

First, I wonder if the Vatican has a better designed system because they are not motivated by money. Maybe the thought of 1.1 billion followers, or even, say, I don't know, God, waiting for your decision, might be a better reason to think a process through than monetary gain.

Second, Bruce Schneier says that the system works because it is manageable. If you look at the papal election process, there is no way it could scale efficiently or be timely across something as large as the US or even Canada. In the papal process, there are nine officials officiating the election out of a body of 117 Cardinals that can vote, or nearly 8% of the electorate. Clearly, that would not work on a larger scale. But then again, maybe democracy to the masses just is not efficient and cannot work. Maybe there is a maximum size, like the papal process or the 220-ish senators with voting rights in ancient Athens.

Finally, I am sure that there is going to be some ill-will and politicking in the Catholic church after the election, no matter who the new Pope is. However, I highly doubt that the Catholic church is even a fraction as divided as the US electorate. Red, blue. Democrat, Republican. With us, against us. In that context, I doubt that the Americans could come up with a hack-proof election process because they would be unable to agree on the process.


thrashor said...

I am willing to accept your second and third points, but not your first. The Vatican is a very powerful and wealthy institution with global (and beyond?) reach. Granted, the United States of America is just about the only super power left on the globe, and there is a lot at stake in the US presidential election, but the position of pontif holds almost complete control over a powerful and wealthy gloabl religious empire.

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Returned to working as a Management Consultant, specializing in risk, security, and regulatory compliance, with Fujitsu Canada after running the IT shop in the largest library in the South Pacific.

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