DARPA Wants to Prove Secure Voting Hardware Is Possible

Credit: Rob Crandal/ShutterstockCredit: Rob Crandal/ShutterstockThe Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) headed out to the Def Con 27 hacking conference to sell attendees on the idea that it can build a truly secure hardware platform, Wired reported, starting with a totally custom voting system that's cost $10 million to develop.

Researchers seem increasingly willing to claim their devices are "unhackable." EyeDisk raised tens of thousands of dollars on Indiegogo and Kickstarter earlier this year for a purportedly unhackable thumb drive. The University of Michigan announced the Morpheus processor architecture, which encrypts and reshuffles its code every 50 milliseconds to confound attackers, with similar claims about its supposedly unbreachable security mechanisms

However, the unbreachable claim is one that's hard to swallow. And that's even before remembering that EyeDisk was revealed to have numerous vulnerabilities after it was successfully crowdfunded.

Yet, a team at DARPA believes that building a bespoke hardware platform that doesn't rely on any traditional products--Wired specifically noted the lack of proprietary components from Intel or AMD--will let it create devices that can't even be undermined by vulnerabilities in their software.

DARPA's currently focused on building an open source voting platform that can safeguard the U.S. election process. Those defenses will become increasingly crucial in future elections--the Senate Intelligence Committee said in July that Russia targeted voting systems in all 50 states during the 2016 presidential election. Others have warned that Russia and other countries have already started to undermine future U.S. elections.

Those reports are even more worrisome in light of repeated warnings from security researchers that current voting systems are vulnerable to many security attacks.

Luckily the security experts who attend Def Con are hot on election security. The hacking conference has an entire Voting Village set up for hackers to examine; that's where DARPA set up its platform. Wired reported that the project is still in its early stages, though, so the voting system the agency brought to the conference is currently running on virtualized reproductions of its hardware.

DARPA reportedly hopes to bring a closer-to-completion version of its platform to the Voting Village at Def Con 28 in 2020. It would almost certainly be too late for the platform to be implemented for the 2020 presidential election at that point, but if the project is still ongoing, it would show that DARPA isn't going to give up on election security too easily. Let's just hope that it manages to be even half as secure as it's meant to be.