February 14, 2020

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MIT researchers say mobile voting app piloted in U.S. is rife with vulnerabilities

Elections officers in quite a few states have piloted different mobile voting purposes as a...

Elections officers in quite a few states have piloted different mobile voting purposes as a method of expanding obtain to the polls, but MIT researchers say one of the additional popular applications has stability vulnerabilities that could open up it up to tampering by poor actors.

The MIT investigation of the software, known as Voatz, highlighted a amount of weaknesses that could make it possible for hackers to “alter, halt, or expose how an individual user has voted.”

Additionally, the researchers discovered that Voatz’s use of Palo Alto-based seller Jumio for voter identification and verification poses opportunity privateness challenges for end users.

The research comes on the heels this month’s difficulty-plagued Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucus, which applied an on the net application to store votes but unsuccessful to do so accurately because of a coding flaw and insufficient tests.

Some stability specialists have long argued that the only safe type of voting is paper ballots.

iPhone iOS voatz blockchain voting Voatz

Voatz Apple iphone mobile voting software.

The Voatz mobile voting software has been applied in little pilots involving  only about 600 voters total in Denver, West Virginia, 5 counties in Oregon, Utah and Washington Condition, where the primary target was on inclusivity for absentee voters residing abroad.

In reaction, Voatz called the MIT report “flawed” because it based its investigation on a long-outdated Android model of the application.

“Had the researchers taken the time, like almost 100 other researchers, to exam and validate their statements making use of the latest model of our platform by using our public bug bounty plan on HackerOne, they would not have finished up manufacturing a report that asserts statements on the foundation of an erroneous method,” Voatz mentioned in a website post today.

“We want to be very clear that all nine of our governmental pilot elections executed to date, involving less than 600 voters, have been executed properly and securely with no noted challenges,” Voatz said.

In 2018, West Virginia piloted Voatz’s mobile voting application for resident company members and family members residing abroad who desired to vote in the midterm common election. 

West Virginia Secretary of State’s workplace pointed to a Office of Homeland Safety stability evaluation of the 2018 Voatz pilots indicating there was “no risk actor behaviors or artifacts of past nefarious routines had been detected in the vendor’s networks.”

Audits of paper ballots made by the Voatz plaform on election day also confirmed the final results had been accurate, in accordance to the Secretary of State’s workplace.

“We want to get the term out to media stores like Computerworld to guarantee WV voters that we are getting every feasible precaution to balance election stability and integrity with WV necessity to present absentee ballots electronically to abroad, navy and absentee voters residing with bodily disabilities,” Mike Queen, deputy main of team for West Virginia Secretary of Condition Mac Warner, said by using email.

The MIT research, having said that, underscored the will need for Voatz’s mobile application layout to be additional transparent because public information about the technology is “vague” at best.

Voatz’s platform employs a combination of biometrics, these types of as mobile-mobile phone based facial recognition, and components-backed keystores to present close-to-close encrypted and voter-verifiable ballots. It also employs blockchain as an immutable electronic ledger to store voting final results.

Voatz has declined to present official specifics about its platform, citing the will need to guard mental property, the researchers said in their paper.

In a website put up now, Voatz known as the researchers’ method “flawed,” which “invalidates any statements about their means to compromise the total procedure.

“In quick, to make statements about a backend server with out any evidence or connection to the server negates any diploma of trustworthiness on behalf of the researchers,” Voatz said.

The researchers also known as Voatz out for reporting a College of Michigan researcher who in 2018 executed an investigation of the Voatz application. “This resulted in the FBI conducting an investigation towards the researcher,” the MIT researchers said.

It’s not the to start with time Voatz has been criticized for not becoming additional open up about its technology. Final May, computer experts from Lawrence Livermore Nationwide Laboratory and the College of South Carolina, along with election oversight teams, published a paper that criticized Voatz for not releasing any “thorough complex description” of its technology.

“There are at least four businesses attempting to give internet or mobile voting solutions for high-stakes elections, and one 2020 Democratic presidential applicant has bundled voting from a mobile unit by using the blockchain in his coverage plank,” the MIT researchers said in their paper. “To our know-how, only Voatz has properly fielded these types of a procedure.”

Together with Voatz, Democracy Live, Votem, SecureVote and Scytl have all piloted mobile or on the net voting technology in different public or private balloting that bundled organization stockholder and college or university board elections. Most lately, a Seattle district piloted the Democracy Live technology in a board of supervisors election that was open up to one.two million registered voters.

Tusk Philanthropies, a nonprofit centered on marketing mobile voting as a way to increase voter turnout, has assisted fund and market Voatz and Democracy Live.

In a assertion to Computerworld, Tusk said it feels assured in the final results of all the pilot elections because it executed independent, 3rd-get together audits “which confirmed that votes forged above the blockchain had been recorded and tabulated accurately.”

“With that becoming said, we constantly welcome new stability information and will do the job with stability specialists to evaluation this paper,” Tusk said. “Security is an iterative approach that can only get better above time. There is no area for mistake in our elections, especially when it comes to details leakage, compromised encryption, broken authentication, or denial-of-company assaults.”

Medici Ventures, the wholly-owned financial investment subsidiary of Overstock.com, has also backed Voatz, whose software has predominantly been applied to make it possible for absentee voter company members and their people to forged their ballots by using their smartphones from anywhere in the world.

Jonathan Johnson, CEO of Overstock and president of Medici Ventures, responded in a assertion to a New York Periods article about the MIT research, stating he believes the Voatz technology is dependable and safe and sound.

“It not only helps prevent voting fraud, but it also shields the privateness of every voter. The Voatz application even generates a paper ballot that can be audited to assure the fidelity of the vote,” Johnson said. “This is, we consider, the right path forward to safe and sound innovation in election technology. We ought to not enable ourselves derail the potential of voting.”

Critics of mobile or on the net voting, including stability specialists, consider it opens up the prospect of server penetration assaults, client-unit malware, denial-of-company assaults and other disruptions — all connected with infecting voters’ pcs with malware or infecting the pcs in the elections workplace that deal with and count ballots.

Jeremy Epstein, vice chair of the Association for Computing Machinery’s US Technological innovation Plan Committee (USTPC), has been a vocal critic of mobile voting platforms, which include Voatz. He said the MIT research was “very thorough” and demonstrates specifically what specialists have been stating for yrs.

“Internet voting is dangerous. It really is no surprise that the Voatz procedure is susceptible to numerous kinds of assaults, even to an attacker with no obtain to source code or other within information,” Epstein said by using email. “The assaults shown by MIT are nicely within just the capabilities of country-point out adversaries who are intrigued in manipulating US elections, and these types of an adversary is not going to publish their final results as the MIT team has completed, leaving us with an election that may perhaps be undetectably manipulated.”

The 5-yr-outdated Voatz slammed the MIT researchers for by no means connecting even the outdated application they applied to the company’s servers, which are hosted by Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.

In the absence of connecting to the real servers recording public votes, “the researchers fabricated an imagined model of the Voatz servers, hypothesized how they labored, and then created assumptions about the interactions between the procedure components that are simply just wrong,” Voatz said.

Epstein retorted that Voatz’s reviews “demonstrate that they will not understand possibly the severity of the assaults or the way stability works in common.

“Any election official making use of Voatz goods would be nicely advised to terminate their options, before a stealthy assault in a actual election compromises democracy,” Epstein said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.