DARPA to Expose Its New Voting System Security to Hackers at this year’s DEF CON

It is a well-known fact that hackers have been interfering with elections in various countries around the world. 2016 US Presidential election is one of the biggest examples of this, but many other countries experienced similar issues when it comes to hackers breaching their voting systems’ security and manipulating the elections.

This is why DARPA (Defensive Advanced Research Program Agency) announced that it plans to visit this year’s DEF CON and allow hackers to test its new voting box solution.

This year’s DEF CON Hacking Conference will take place in Las Vegas, starting on August 8th, and ending on August 11th. DARPA plans to expose its new concept — voting ballot boxes protected not only by software solutions but by hardware and firmware alike.

The Agency’s solution comes as a result of its
System Security Integrated Through Hardware and Firmware (SSITH) program. The
goal is to let hackers gathering at DEF CON 2019 have physical access to it,
and see whether or not they can breach its defenses. DARPA chose to dedicate
its efforts to creating security systems for voting boxes because this approach
can provide researchers with an accessible application that they can evaluate
in an open forum. Of course, there is also the fact that the security of
election systems has become a major concern for the entire nation.

DARPA is also the agency that is responsible
for the modern internet, as well as various stealth technologies. Its goals
include securing computers, as well as other electronic devices. It also
focuses on the creation of different technologies that would enhance national
defense. The new election security system is only the latest of its exploits,
as Dr. Linton Salmon, the SSITH Program Manager, stated.

Salmon believes that endangering the election process means endangering the US democracy itself and that he hopes to expand upon the voting security system, and apply it more broadly in the future.

Of course, it should be noted that DARPA does not have a finished product as of yet. In fact, it does not claim that the demonstration booth that it will deliver to DEF CON will prove to be secure, unhackable, or anything of that sort. It simply wishes to grant hackers the opportunity to exploit the system’s flaws and understand what they are. In other words, this is the information-gathering venture.

After the hackers identify and expose the system’s weaknesses, the research team will address them, and keep developing new hardware designs, firmware upgrades, and alike. After the DEF CON, DARPA will go on a university tour and allow even more cybersecurity professionals to have a go against its security systems, which is expected to lead to the discovery of new flaws , and their repair.

Then, once DARPA decides that it has probably received everything that it could from security experts, it is likely that it will simply close down the program. After all, DARPA does not create prototypes of final product designs. It collects information, identifies issues, proposes fixes, and comes up with new solutions. However, it will then sell this data to manufacturers and developers, and let them deal with developing the final product.

This also means that DARPA’s security system is not going to be ready and deployable for the 2020 elections, but likely for the next ones, should the new security prove more successful in repelling hackers than the old one. Still, the new demonstrator will provide greater insight into the election system flaws.