The Importance of Election Cybersecurity
Improving election cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important as recent voter fraud and election hackings continue to shake the nation. Innovators and security organizations are looking into the endless possibilities of applying blockchains to enhance election cybersecurity. Blockchain technology holds an abundance of real-world applications, including finance, health, real estate, and it is only a matter of time before it is applied to the voting process. Let’s look into just how blockchain security and threat modeling can be applied to voting security.
Typically when the media covers blockchain security, their focus is on the immutability of the distributed ledger. As often heralded, the immutability of the ledger has the potential to fundamentally alter how we process financial transactions. The tech could altogether eliminate the need for trusted third parties, such as the Depository Trust Clearing Company,1 from financial and other transaction types.
Wide distribution of the decision-making point could be used to prevent massive botnet-powered DDoS attacks and to secure industrial supply chains.2 Blockchain’s process of validating the integrity of data through peer-to-peer consensus could become the industry default for healthcare, insurance, finance, and e-commerce.3 We are even beginning to see benefits of the immutable ledger applied to the election and voting processes.4
However, as we discovered in the 1990s, with the potential benefits of the Internet came a concurrent tsunami of potential threats. As we pursue blockchain’s benefits, it will be critical that we develop a full understanding of comprehensive blockchain security issues.
Blockchain Security is more than a Distributed ledger
The distributed ledger’s security arises from two fundamental aspects of the blockchain technology:
- Each record within the ledger is cryptographically hashed in a non-trivial way based on the state of the previous record. Removing or altering a single record anywhere in the chain – other than the last record added – will invariably and noticeably change every subsequent record.
- Effectively attacking the last record committed to the ledger would require the simultaneous discovery and compromise of at least 51% of the existing blocks. Since there may be thousands or even millions of copies of the ledger, executing a practical attack is technically unfeasible.
However, blockchain technology is more than a distributed ledger. Hence consideration of blockchain security cannot end with reliance in ledger immutability.
At the most basic level, blockchain technology is a distributed peer-to-peer computing network. The network is composed of various node types:
- Client nodes start the transaction process through network “invocations” and “proposals” to the ordering service;
- Peer nodes determine transaction validity and maintain independent copies of the ledger. Some peers can have a special “endorser” role;
- Ordering-service nodes – sometimes called “orderers” – run the communication service that provides “atomic delivery” across the peer network.
There is a seven-step process for creation of a new blockchain record. The process begins with a client node that sends a “proposed transaction” in the form of chain code to “endorser” peers. This chain code could be embedded into a financial transaction or any other contract or data exchange. It could even be used to enable a secure e-voting ballot.
Using Blockchain to Secure the Voting Process
Beyond just understanding the basic blockchain security issues, enterprise threat modeling allows for in-depth “what-if” scenario analysis. In particular, we can threat model of both an existing e-voting system and a proposed blockchain-enabled system. Comparing the two threat models will help to quantify the effectiveness of blockchain to mitigate election cybersecurity threats.
The existing e-voting system threat model was created based on the findings of the Project EVEREST report 5 and the DEFCON 25 Voting Machine Hacking Village report.6
The threat model for the ES&S Unity voting system identified 163 potential threats. This constitutes the baseline for our “what-if” analysis. The next step is to create a threat model of our hypothetical enabled e-voting system based on a chained blockchain security threat model.
We assume voting takes place at traditional polling locations. However, rather than depending on special-use machines, our hypothetical e-voting system utilizes regular desktop or laptop computers through which voters interact with the blockchain e-ballot.
Once completed, the e-ballot is printed and reviewed by the voter before being stored on-site by poll workers. Simultaneously the e-ballot is processed and tallied for real-time election results. Though not necessary, additional security can be achieved through a scalable cloud-based e-ballot processing and storage microservices application.
Our blockchain-enabled e-voting system threat model identified 73 threats. This represents a 55% decrease in potential threats compared to the ES&S Unity e-voting system threat model. Clearly, blockchain security can be leveraged to improve election cybersecurity of the US voting system.
If you would like more information on how to use enterprise threat modeling and chained threat models to understand how to leverage blockchain security, click here to schedule a live presentation.
1 Dynkin, Benjamin. “8 Experts on the Future of Blockchain Technology and Applications.” NewGenApps. New Generation Applications, Pvt, Ltd: Lucknow. February 9, 2018.
2 Tan, Aaron. “How Blockchain can Secure the IoT.” ComputerWeekly.com TechTarget: Newton. January 29, 2018.
3 Zanni, John. “8 Experts on the Future of Blockchain Technology and Applications.” NewGenApps. New Generation Applications, Pvt, Ltd: Lucknow. February 9, 2018.
4 Biggs, John. “Sierra Leone just ran the first blockchain-based election.” TechCrunch. Oath, Inc: New York. March 14, 2018.
5 Brunner, Jennifer. Project EVEREST: Evaluation and Validation of Election-Related Equipment, Standards, and Testing. Ohio Secretary of State Office: Ohio. December 14, 2017.
6 Blaze, Matt, et. al. DEFCON 25 Voting Machine Hacking Village: Report on Cyber Vulnerabilities in U.S. Election Equipment, Databases, and Infrastructure. DEF CON Communications, Inc.: Las Vegas.September 2017.
7 Chemitiganti, Vamsi. “The Architecture of Blockchain.” Vamsi Talks Tech. January 28, 2016.
8 Doubleday, Kevin. “Blockchain for 2018 and Beyond: A (growing) list of blockchain use cases.” Medium.com. Medium: San Francisco. January 29, 2018.