The Blockchain Voting Debate Heats Up After Historic Elections

In the wake of Utah making history with blockchain voting during the 2020 presidential election, some security experts have increased their criticism of the idea.

Earlier this week, a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a draft of a paper titled Going from bad to worse: from Internet voting to Blockchain voting. The paper follows the release of an MIT report in February that explored vulnerabilities in the Voatz blockchain voting app.

The new document acknowledges the concerns citizens and officials may have regarding current electoral security, but the authors argue that even if a blockchain voting option would result in higher turnout, the method isn’t secure enough.

“Online voting systems are vulnerable to major failures – large-scale attacks that are more difficult to detect and easier to execute than similar attacks against paper voting systems,” the paper reads. “Furthermore, online voting systems will suffer from such vulnerabilities for the foreseeable future, given the state of cybersecurity and the high stakes in political elections.”

The document rejects the idea that a blockchain component would make online voting safer. The authors admit that, on the surface, the characteristics of the blockchain seem to make it a good solution. However, too many potential weaknesses remain.

“Blockchains use consensus protocols to avoid a single point of failure; these protocols can tolerate a small number of participants acting mischievously, “states the newspaper.” These ideas appear to be useful for electronic voting: for example, using cryptographic signatures to make it difficult to falsify votes and using hashing and distributed consensus to keep a register of votes that attackers cannot tamper with unless they co-opt a large part of the Net. However, it is extremely difficult to make these techniques work reliably in practice. ”

A major limitation in blockchain voting is that, despite the promise of its more secure structure, it still requires the use of “potentially vulnerable devices and network infrastructure”. Furthermore, the document outlines a number of “new problems” introduced by the blockchain. For example, the authors point out that it would take “more time and effort to implement security fixes” in a decentralized blockchain-based system if new software updates are needed to combat potential attacks.

Later this week, the paper’s argument received some responses from Pete Martin, CEO of Votem, a blockchain voting company. Martin expressed his disagreements with the newspaper during a Decrypt Daily podcast.

Martin said academics, like MIT scientists, can drill holes in anything. In doing so, academics can forget that “there is a real world out there”.

Martin also targeted specific claims within the newspaper. One of his criticisms concerns the verification of the vote.

“[The researchers] I believe that a hand-marked paper ballot is the most verifiable type of ballot paper, “Martin said.” The problem is that there is a concept in voting called chain of custody. the moment you send it in a box, you have lost the chain of custody. ”

With this in mind, Martin explained that most of the 2020 cards lacked “true end-to-end verifiability”. He then said that the blockchain can enable such a thing.

Such debates are likely to continue for the foreseeable future, especially if governments seek to potentially expand the use of blockchain voting. Utah now has a legislative proposal to open mobile voting within its borders.

Amelia Powers Gardner, a county clerk / auditor who oversaw the use of blockchain voting in Utah County, Utah, and one of the Government technology The top 25 actors, dreamers and drivers for 2020 spoke about the bill on Tuesday to the Utah government’s Interim Committee on Operations.

“This allows us to do a small controlled pilot so we can try this technology,” Gardner said, second The Salt Lake Tribune. “So that in 10 years, when the vast majority of our constituents demand it, we will have the opportunity to test it, try it, take it, stimulate it and make sure Utah remains the gold standard in the nation.”

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