Welcome once again to Codebook, where our jaw is still hovering near the floor at the incomplete results from the Iowa caucus, three days after the event.
This week's newsletter is 1,552 words, a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
The big lesson from Iowa: Security is only a starting point in protecting elections. Usability, reliability and redundancy are just as important.
Why it matters: As long as election officials neglect software fundamentals and view security only as a matter of locking hackers out, we will keep facing trust-eroding system meltdowns like this week's Iowa caucus fiasco.
The big picture: The U.S. is already struggling to bolster the perceived stability and reliability of its elections, which are under stress from extreme partisanship, the spread of conspiracy theories on social media, and the still-fresh memories of Russian meddling in the 2016 contest.
Iowa presented the nation with a vexing scenario in which a primary contest was so compromised by tech snafus that its results weren't available for days.
Two days after Iowa turned into the "Waiting for Godot" caucus, it's clear that Iowa's new caucus app had all the hallmarks of a software disaster:
Here's what we now know about the mistakes made by Shadow, the app-developer contractor, and the Iowa Democrats:
Of note: This kind of disaster isn't exclusive to the digital world. After low-tech failures of Florida's punch-card voting machines, the 2000 presidential election hung in the balance for weeks and the dispute had to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The good news:
Experts recommend that all election systems should be:
Auditable paper trails remain the gold standard, according to the National Academy of Sciences and an overwhelming consensus of security experts.
Yes, but: Iowa had them and still messed up.
Our thought bubble: In an interview with Axios' Sara Fischer, Tara McGowan — co-founder of Acronym, a nonprofit consultancy that owns app-maker Shadow — doubled down on "pushing the envelope." But Silicon Valley's "disruption" mindset, with its "move fast and break things" mantra, is uniquely ill-suited for election tech.
The bottom line: This is one realm where it's better to move slowly and handle with care.
Screenshot from Check Point video
If you connect your lightbulb to the internet, the internet could connect back, according to a new report from Check Point detailing a security flaw in Philips Hue Smart Bulbs.
How it works: This isn't really about cyber criminals gaslighting you by dimming your lights — but that's exactly how this hack starts.
Details: An attacker with a laptop and an antenna within 328 feet of your smart bulb could execute this attack, according to Check Point.
What's next: The IoT industry remains a security disaster waiting to happen, according to many experts. Reports like this keep the industry on its toes, but it still has a long way to go.
Digital technology is turbocharging the power of dictators around the globe, according to the authors of a new study in Foreign Affairs.
Why it matters: AI, face recognition and other tech systems are increasingly doing the police-state jobs of keeping tabs on citizens and intimidating dissidents that used to be performed by human beings, write Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Erica Frantz, and Joseph Wright in "The Digital Dictators."
What they're saying:
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
In its latest move to counteract a perceived threat from Huawei, the Trump administration is proposing a new approach to 5G networks that would rely on virtualization and other features to give U.S. companies a broader role, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Why it matters: Right now, none of Huawei's traditional networking gear rivals are U.S.-based, and their products are typically more expensive than Huawei's, Axios' Ina Fried reports.
How it works: The idea is to push for open software that could run on nearly any standard hardware, with Microsoft, AT&T and Dell among those said to be involved in the effort, per the Wall Street Journal.
Oracle confirmed it is also among the companies interested in taking part.
The big picture: As we wrote last week, the U.S. has been going to its allies and asking them not to use Huawei gear in their networks. But affordable Western alternatives to the Chinese products haven't been easy to find.
Meanwhile: Facebook has been spearheading an effort for several years known as Telecom Infra Project, designed to allow for a more open, software-based approach to cellular networking.
Yes, but: Making 5G gear still requires a fair amount of know-how that's specific to the cellular industry.
Flashback: This is at least the third plan that has been floated from within the Trump administration to kickstart 5G and ensure the U.S. plays a leading role.
The bottom line: So far, though, it is the industry's existing approaches that have prevailed — with 5G rolling out from all the major carriers, starting last year, using traditional equipment vendors like Nokia, Ericsson and, to some degree, Samsung.
What could possibly go wrong over the coming week? Whatever it is, we'll be right there for you.