Don’t entrust the security of the ballot to blockchain researchers say

October 22, 2018
Chris Wheal

While these pages are usually full of the benefits blockchain is expected to bring to industry, finance and society, here’s a story backing the belief that the voting system would, in fact, be damaged by the technology.

Blockchain voting: ballots too important to trust to the internet Cornell researchers say

Researchers with Cornell University’s Initiative for CryptoCurrencies and Contracts (IC3) have come to the conclusion that blockchain’s distributed ledger technology is not only a bad fit for internet voting but would further endanger the integrity of the secret ballot.

Blockchain voting

Interest in utilising the technology to make internet voting more secure has grown, and several countries and federal departments have experimented with blockchain voting techniques.

Kenya is looking into using blockchain for future elections to improve voting integrity and trust in the voting process.

Meanwhile, the US state of West Virginia said in August it was to pilot a voting programme to enable its residents – many of whom are based overseas in the military – to cast their ballots using a blockchain-enabled app installed on their smartphones.

Insecure devices

IC3’s researchers say they understand the potential benefits for the technology being considered to optimise internet voting, but believe the integrity of the secret ballot is too important to put online at all.

While blockchain technology is known to be incredibly secure – the programs and apps that would run such software on computers and smart devices are less so.

To this end, blockchain technology’s tight security could actually work against it. If vote-rigging malware were targeted against the devices that run the technology and changes votes at the last minute, the wrong vote would be recorded securely without the knowledge of the voter or the ballot’s returning officers.

Too much risk

The researchers – Professor Ari Juels, assistant professor Ittay Eyal and graduate student Oded Naor – reporting in Business Insider, concluded: “Officials and companies who promote online voting are creating a false sense of security – and putting the integrity of the election process at risk.

“In seeking to use blockchains as a protective element, they may in fact be introducing new threats into the crucial mechanics of democracy.”

Post written by Chris Wheal
Chris Wheal is editor of OpenLedger's news and features service. An award-wining business journalists himself, he runs a team of freelance journalists from across the UK and north America.

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