After Illinois was targeted by Russian hackers prior to the 2016 elections and voter information leaked, securing future data has become a priority. The state may now look to emerging technology for one possible solution.
The technology is known as blockchain. It allows cryptocurrency – like Bitcoin – to be safely used in online transactions. The idea is: once information is in a system, no one can tamper with it.
Matthew Erickson, director of client services and technology for the security software company SpiderOak, said the U.S. uses a decentralized voting system, where each jurisdiction has varying ways of collecting and counting votes. This makes it easier for anyone, not just hackers, to change data. “A precinct captain should be able to look at the data, and be the precinct captain, but they shouldn’t be able to finally manipulate the data, [and] the voting machine vendor shouldn’t be able to finally manipulate data.”
Blockchain technology, he said, would help protect this data after someone casts a vote, and it can also be used to prevent voter fraud.
Bitcoin, which has been around since 2009, uses the same blockchain technology to ensure transactions are permanent and unchangeable. Erickson compares this to a bank ledger that records transaction history. To make this digital currency valid and safe, the data is encrypted and stored in the blockchain.
The technology can be adapted for use in Illinois once the state decides to replace the aging voting machines, said Erickson. But engineering the software will take some time and shouldn’t be rushed. “These machines need to be studied and understood, and a rush engineering job is a good way to end up with a bad engineering job.”
So, the technology – if considered at all – will not be ready for the upcoming general elections in November, but most likely will be by the 2020 presidential elections, he said.
The shipping and health industries have also adapted blockchain technology to address their own security risks.