MIT security experts warn against blockchain-based voting systems

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Dominion Voting System
Image source: Dominion Voting website

A group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) raised concerns over the use of internet-based and blockchain-based voting systems in the next elections.

Their warning comes on the heels of several groups that expressed doubt on the integrity of the election process in the United States.

Calls have recently increased across the country to explore the possibility of using internet-based and blockchain-based voting systems due in part to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Several tech start-ups have also advocated for the use of blockchain technology, claiming this would increase voter-turn-out and bolster public trust.

Blockchain-based voting systems will be vulnerable to outside attacks

However, in a report published on November 16, the MIT researchers said the move to turn to an internet-based voting system would be catastrophic. Even when this voting system is secured by blockchain technology, researchers said they are very much vulnerable to outside attacks.

“While current election systems are far from perfect, blockchain would greatly increase the risk of undetectable, nation-scale election failures,” said MIT professor Ron Rivest, who is also a senior author of the report.

“Any turnout increase would come at the cost of losing meaningful assurance that votes have been counted as they were cast,” he added.

Blockchain-based methods are potential sources of what the experts branded as “serious failures,” where election results have been changed in ways that are undetectable, or, even if detected, would be irreparable without running a whole new election, the researchers added.

The democratic process is not like a financial transaction

According to the study, one of the main differences when utilizing blockchain technology for a democratic process like elections against financial transactions is that when fraud happens, financial institutions usually have ways to compensate victims for their losses.

Customers are commonly refunded with the stolen funds while in other industries like cryptocurrency, exchanges are able to freeze tokens related to an attack.

“If vote-casting is entirely software-based, a malicious system could fool the voter about how the vote was actually recorded,” Rivest said. “Democracy — and the consent of the governed — cannot be made contingent on whether some software correctly recorded voters’ choices.”

Rivest added, “For elections, there can be no insurance or recourse against a failure of democracy. There is no means to make voters whole again after a compromised election.”

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