Technology 3 min read

DARPA Begins Development of Secure, Open-Source e-Voting System

It's clear that the U.S needs a complete voting overhaul. Now, DARPA wants to help in creating the e-voting system to do just that. ¦ Alexandru Nika /

It's clear that the U.S needs a complete voting overhaul. Now, DARPA wants to help in creating the e-voting system to do just that. ¦ Alexandru Nika /

In July 2016, a dozen professional hackers tied to the Russian government infiltrated the servers of the Democratic National Committee and released thousands of confidential emails via WikiLeaks.

The ongoing FBI investigation revealed that hackers targeted voter registration systems in 20 states and successfully breached four databases.

The audacious DNC hack was an attempt to influence the U.S. presidential election and hit the American democracy as a whole in its heart.

This unprecedented cyber attack showed just how vulnerable the American election system is and how urgent is the need for an overhaul.

DARPA’s new American E-Voting System

Ahead of the last midterm elections, Congress allocated $380 million to states to be spent on upgrading voting equipment and improving the security of their election systems.

Most states use aging voting machines that are prone to failure and errors, and are susceptible to hacking and fraud.

Now, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, is developing an open-source electronic voting technology that would be secure and let voters ensure their votes weren’t manipulated.

Per Motherboard, DARPA awarded a $10 million contract to Galois, a cybersecurity firm based in Oregon, to design a secure e-voting system.

Instead of closed-source proprietary software currently used by voting machines vendors, the new system will be entirely open-source to make it as verifiable and transparent as possible. The system will also use secure and open-source hardware developed at DARPA.

Read More: DARPA Develops Disaster Robots to Help During National Emergencies

Importantly, DARPA won’t build machines with the intention to make a profit. Instead, the technology will show vendors how to ramp up the security of their voting hardware and software.

DARPA’s Linton Salmon, the project manager, explained further:

“We will not have a voting system that we can deploy. That’s not what we do. We will show a methodology that could be used by others to build a voting system that is completely secure.”

The plan is to invite experts ranging from academic computer scientists to hackers to test it out and search for vulnerabilities,

Regarding the security of their e-voting system, DARPA and Galois don’t want people to take their word for it as other vendors do without backing up their claim. This summer and next year, the Def Con Voting Village in Las Vegas will host an event where amateur and pro hackers will be challenged to breach the system and test its security.

But Def Con hackers aren’t enough for DARPA. University researchers will also try their hand at gauging the system’s security in a more formal and scientific way.

“Def Con is great, but [hackers there] will not give us as much technical details as we want. Universities will give us more information. But we won’t have as many people or as high visibility when we do it with universities.”

– Linton Salmon

Last summer, at Def Con 2018, hackers effortlessly infiltrated voting machines and in less time than it’d take a voter to cast their ballot. We’ll see how they will fare with DARPA’s new e-voting system.

Read More: Microsoft Claims Russian Intelligence Group Tried to Hack U.S. Elections

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comments (5)
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  1. Profile Image
    Lisa Gaillard March 22 at 9:07 am GMT

    This is very alarming. These hackers sabotage our democracy. 🙁

    • Profile Image
      Claire Smith March 22 at 12:49 pm GMT

      A great tactic to test how reliable this E-Voting system is to use the attackers. 😁

      • Profile Image
        Lisa Gaillard March 22 at 2:16 pm GMT

        Probably because even the Swiss government offers cash to hackers who can detect vulnerabilities in its e-voting system. 😟

        • Profile Image
          Claire Smith March 23 at 5:54 am GMT

          Exactly, e-voting is risky enough. This time they won’t allow hackers to manipulate the result.

          • Profile Image
            Lisa Gaillard March 27 at 7:33 am GMT

            I hope so but is this enough to say that electronic voting is ready for prime time? 🤔

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