Yep.  This is me.

Rob Hansen

So who am I?

Rob Hansen, freelance hacker, languages geek extraordinaire, and dabbler in the black arts of information security. I’m a doctoral student in the University of Iowa’s Department of Computer Science studying under Doug Jones. Right now I’m hacking on voting system technologies for him, but who knows what I’ll be doing next week?


My active research project as of Summer 2008 is an inquiry into how software forensics can be applied to voting systems in a manner which preserves the confidentiality and privacy of the secret ballot. For years, we’ve been able to study paper ballots to discover interesting things about the election. For instance, if we see a pattern of erasures on a ballot, we might conclude the voter was confused; if we see a widespread pattern of erasures over all ballots, we might conclude the election was flawed.

This sort of post–election analysis is an important (even essential!) part of modern democracy. With the push towards dre machines, we find ourselves seemingly stymied. How can we collect useful data analogous to that we get from paper ballots while strictly respecting the secret ballot?


hacker emblem That’s right; I’m a hacker. I am not, nor have I ever been, someone who breaks into computer systems for fun or profit.

Mundane details

I was born in Waterloo, Iowa on January 6, 1975. The first half of my childhood was spent on a Iowa farm, and the second half in a small Iowa town. My father is a local judge, and my mother a former schoolteacher. I’m the last remaining bachelor in all of Clan Hansen, a dubious honor of which I’m reminded every family reunion.

I originally attended the University of Houston, but transferred after a year to Cornell when it became clear that uh and I were not at all a good fit. (Please note that I attended Cornell, not Cornell University; the one I attended is older than Cornell University by fifteen years, and as such, I feel it’s entirely appropriate to refer to it as, simply, Cornell.) I graduated in 1998 with a degree in Computer Science.

After college I bounced around the free market for a while, discovering the joys of it work where the average “career” job lasts only about eighteen months. I finally decided that if the average job was that short, there wasn’t any good reason not to take a chance on a startup. I accepted an offer of employment from San Francisco–based Exemplary Technologies, and moved out to the Bay Area.

This was, not to be too melodramatic, Not A Good Idea.

The acting CEO of the company, Ben Trafford, was indicted in 2000 on various financial crimes. The company tanked, there was no money for payroll, and I wound up out a very large sum of money. I was there at his sentencing in the summer of 2001, and it did me a lot of good to see him convicted of felony securities fraud. You can read the entire story at my Yomu saga, “Two Thousand Miles to the Promised Land”. Read it while you can; every now and again the felon–in–question sends me emails by turns conciliatory and angry trying to get me to take it down. He’s also filed complaints with my hosting outfit, and in a triumph of sanity, Monkeyblade’s refused to take it down. Might have to do with the fact I’m good friends with them. Or it might have to do with the fact I’m right. Either way, it’s all cool.

After bouncing around the Bay Area for a while I got caught up in the massive tech downturn. When faced with $2,000–a–month rent in the Valley versus $500–a–month in my native Iowa, well… home looked like a better and better option, so I returned here. I applied to graduate school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City expecting that I’d take a couple of semesters of continuing education courses before transferring to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs for their information–security program.

Then I discovered Doug Jones. Jones is one of the nation’s leading researchers into secure voting systems. It’s not really my thing, but voting technology is perhaps the most intensive area of security research today. It has the strictest requirements, the most legislation, and some of the highest stakes. If you want to earn your bones in the world of information security, there are a lot worse places to earn them than by doing research into secure voting systems.

In my spare time I enjoy reading — mostly science fiction and technical literature — and writing fiction. Coming from Iowa, I picked up an interest in sport shooting.

I’m single, never married, no children. But thanks to three nephews, I get all the fun of being a dad with absolutely none of the responsibilities. Take a look at Huey, Dewey and Louie.

Email me.