Wednesday, December 21, 2016

NYU 1st and University of Maryland Students 2nd Win Cash Prize for E-Voting Security Idea

University of Maryland lost the first place slot to a team from New York University. The top teams found "elegant" ways to introduce technology to the voting process, while still keeping with some of the old, familiar procedures. The teams stuck with the concept of local polling stations and didn’t change the fundamental way in which people would go vote. Bartholomew said that was a nice touch because people are already pretty comfortable with the way things are done and, as both teams noted, the general public isn't ready to trust a system where voting is done from home over the internet.

The University of Maryland team competed against 18 others from colleges across the U.S. and U.K. Each team had to address competition parameters including:

- How will your digital voting system ensure voter privacy?
- How will you mitigate the risk of voting under duress?
- What mechanism is in place to address contested election claims?

The team of University of Maryland, College Park students took home $5,000 for 2nd in the competition to come up with a technology strategy to secure Digital Voting systems in the future.

The competition was hosted by global cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab. The goal for teams was to create a secure voting solution using blockchain technology, which involves a database that maintains a list of ordered records or "blocks" that are timestamped and cannot be altered after recording. Brian Bartholomew and Juan Guerrero, Senior Security Researchers at Kaspersky Lab and Judges for the competition, said this competition was especially timely, as concerns of rigged voting and secure elections have been particularly prevalent this year.

"We wanted to focus on the importance of electronic voting, given recent events," Guerroro said. "Some of the issues and concerns we've heard about in this election are the same ones we've been hearing about for a long time, but we haven't seen a great deal of innovation going into the actual voting process." Guerrero said the hope with this project was that new ideas around secure voting innovations could be pushed forward and gain some traction.

Willem Wyndham, a freshman and Project Manager for Maryland University, said his team came up with a concept that would encrypt electronic ballots and provide voter receipts using randomly-generated numbers. And once an Election was over and the results were revealed, the receipt numbers would allow people to check on the blockchain and see if their vote was counted. Wyndham said E-Voting is an interesting problem to tackle because there is already so much distrust around voting, especially when it comes to technology. "This kind of thing has the potential to make voting and democracy more transparent and fair," Wyndham said. "Cryptography can kind of seem like magic...but you would be putting the same sort of trust in it as you have with online banking."

Guerrero said voting security is not the kind of thing that can be fixed with just one competition, but he hopes this competition can act as a starting point for more conversations and innovations around e-voting. "We definitely hope they continue to build on these ideas," Guerrero said. "And we hope responsible parties take notice of these kinds of ideas and people start to have different conversations about how electronic voting can happen in the future."

It won't happen overnight, Bartholomew said, but as these cybersecurity students get older and continue innovating around new technologies, he said he hopes some of them stick to working on things like E-Voting. "And maybe in 10 years, we can start talking through these things with government," he said. "In the meantime, we wanted to kind of plant the seed that there is definitely a better way to do things."

CLICK HERE to view the winning proposals.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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