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DARPA is trying to build an unhackable open-source voting system

March 15, 2019

The US Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $10 million contract to design and build a secure voting system, Motherboard reports.

The details: DARPA has handed the project to Oregon-based tech firm Galois. DARPA promises the system will be fully verifiable and transparent, allowing people to check that their own vote was recorded correctly, although it hasn’t disclosed precisely how. It says the system will use open-source hardware made from DARPA’s own secure designs and techniques, developed over the last year. It will also run on fully open-source software, unlike the proprietary systems that most voting machines run on.

The logic: This means external researchers and developers will be able to examine its source code and check for bugs or vulnerabilities. Notably, there is no mention of any online element to the system—which should make it easier to secure.

Why is DARPA doing this? Building voting systems is not something you’d expect a defense research agency to be working on. However, the real goal is to demonstrate a secure hardware program. DARPA picked voting because it’s an issue “people would care about and understand,” Joe Kiniry, principal scientist at Galois, told Motherboard.

A lofty goal: It will be impressive if the project succeeds. Electronic voting has been criticized as one of US elections’ weakest links. Researchers have managed to hack into many of the systems in use today.

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