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Microsoft demos its ElectionGuard software designed to block hackers

Here in the UK, the traditional pencil-and-paper approach to voting is hard for hackers to directly alter, even if the jury is still out about indirect means

But for countries that use voting machines, hacking is a very live concern, which is why Microsoft is touting its ElectionGuard software that aims to safeguard the democratic process from outside meddling.

In a blog post published on Wednesday, the software giants explained that it had signed partnerships with two voting machine companies, alongside its existing agreements with firms that “build and sell more than half of the voting systems used in the United States”.  

While the software is designed to work with existing hardware, the company has created an entirely Microsoft-built voting machine for the Aspen Security Forum to demonstrate how it works. 

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A Surface tablet is kiosk mode lets people vote on screen, while an attached Xbox Adaptive Controller allows people with mobility problems to vote without using the screen, too. A standard printer is attached, which provides confirmation that the vote has been recorded without tampering, and voters also receive a tracking code to confirm their vote has been counted. 

In the ElectionGuard software development kit (SDK) this verification feature will be enabled by homomorphic encryption, which allows mathematical procedures – like counting votes – to be done while keeping the data of people’s actual votes fully encrypted,” Microsoft explains. “For the first time voters will be able to independently verify with certainty that their vote was counted and not altered.  Importantly, in its final form the ElectionGuard SDK will also enable voting officials, the media, or any third party to use a ‘verifier’ application to similarly confirm that the encrypted vote was properly counted and not altered.”

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As for whether this is a real problem, Microsoft has a chilling statistic from AccountGuard, its threat notification service aimed at political campaigns, parties and democracy-focused NGOs in 26 countries. “While this service is relatively new, we’ve already made 781 notifications of nation-state attacks targeting organisations participating in AccountGuard.” Of those, apparently 95% have been aimed as US-based organisations, which should be a concern for next year’s presidential election.

Are you worried about election hacking? Let us know what you think on Twitter: @TrustedReviews.

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