Voting machine security is making news again. Hackers at the DEF CON Hacking Conference in Las Vegas recently proved how easy it is to access a country’s most decisive data in a matter of minutes. 30 voting machines from various vendors used in previous elections were provided to conference attendees and the results were nothing short of anxiety-inducing. Hackers were able to gain enough control to turn machines on and off, as well as read and likely change the information stored in the machines /1/.
High susceptibility unsurprising
Even an amateur can clearly see why the machines are so vulnerable. An article from The Hill reported, “In some cases, these machines were running very outdated software…some had physical USB ports…other systems were compromised wirelessly by exploiting weaknesses in the Wi-Fi connectivity /2/.” The use of obsolete technology makes the voting machines particularly vulnerable, because hackers can use hacking technology that has already proved successful in taking advantages of weaknesses in old software.
So where here do we go from here? The hacking of voting machines is not only possible, but also practically inescapable; government officials and voters in general have reason to be concerned with the implications of this level of susceptibility. Some have suggested a return to paper ballots, others advocate for the simple improvement of software being used in the machines.
Blockchain could rule out tampering
About a year ago Forbes published an article exploring Blockchain technology as a potential solution for voting machine security, an idea that should be re-visited in light of the hacking conference discovery /3/. The implementation of Blockchain would make the end-to-end encryption of votes possible; through encryption, only the voter and the system counting the votes could read the transmitted data. This would keep votes anonymous and unchangeable.
Blockchain would treat votes like transactions – each vote would be written in to the Blockchain and a number of votes would form a block. Blocks are closed with checksums and each block contains the checksum of the previous block. Many copies of blocks are created and distributed, making the database decentralized and thus out of control of any individual party. The votes would then be clearly auditable, as a transparent record would always be available.
E-voting developers have envisioned online voting from home using webcams /3/, but the implementation of Blockchain for security does not require voting to go completely digital. Voters could still be required to show up in person and simply use voting machines connected to Blockchains.