Computer scientists at the University of Birmingham have claimed to have made a ‘breakthrough’ in secure online voting technology, developing a technique to allow people to cast their election votes online even if their computers are suspected of having viruses.
Led by Professor Mark Ryan, the researchers have taken inspiration from banks and have created a system which allows people to vote by employing independent hardware devices in conjunction with their PCs.
In line with much of the discussions taking place in the UK today, the researchers claim the system could be ready for use in the 2020 or 2025 General Election.
Speaking about the developments, Professor Ryan said:
“This system works by employing a credit card-sized device similar to those used in online banking. It is called Du-Vote, and we have been developing it over the past two years. From the voter’s perspective, it’s straightforward: you receive a code on the device and type it back into the computer.
The main advantage of this system is that it splits the security between the independent security device and a voter’s computer or mobile device. A computer is a hugely powerful, all-purpose machine running billions of lines of code that no one really understands, whereas the independent security device has a much, much smaller code base and is not susceptible to viruses.”
Security of a potential online voting method is one of the key concerns that proponents and opponents alike have about the reform.
Earlier this year, the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy recommended that an online voting option should be introduced for the 2020 General Election. A report published by WebRoots Democracy in March found that online voting could boost turnout in the UK by up to 9 million. It also called for online voting to be introduced in trade union ballot strikes and for it to be piloted in Mayoral elections before being implemented in the 2020 General Election.
Gurchetan Grewal, a member of the project team at the University of Birmingham with a PhD in online voting said that ‘this is currently the only piece of work that addresses a core problem of e-voting, namely, that someone may have viruses or other malware on their computer.’
The researchers claim that their system is more secure than those used by banks ‘by allowing for the possibility that the security devices themselves have been manufactured under the influence of a hostile adversary.’
The research paper, titled ‘Du-Vote: Remote Electronic Voting with Untrusted Computers’, will be presented at the 28th IEEE Computer Security Foundations Symposium in Verona, Italy, in July.
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