An attempt to hack into a blockchain voting app being used during the West Virginia midterm elections in 2018 has triggered an FBI investigation and could have implications for the concept. Voatz, which recently raised $7 million in order to expand its offering, managed to fend off the attack, but the authorities are investigating anyway in what could be the first attempt of its kind.
Hack Could Have Been Accidental
News of the attempted hack first came to light at the start of the month when West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner announced that there had been an attempt to compromise the midterm elections:
During the 2018 election cycle, the Secretary of State referred a matter to the United States Attorney’s Office which might have been an unsuccessful attempt to gain uninvited access to the system. The incident occurred during the pilot rollout of West Virginia’s “military mobile voting solution,” an application for eligible overseas voters to receive and return their ballot securely using a mobile device.
The voting solution was in fact Voatz, a blockchain-based voting app, and it seems attackers may have tried to compromise the app in order to either steal information or impact the vote in some way. The attempt was unsuccessful and may, according to CNN, have in fact been the workings of a student attending a course on election security at the University of Michigan. Either way, the attempted breach was serious enough for the FBI to get involved, who now have IP addresses from the device used for the attempt. Fortunately the Voatz platform seems to have succeeded in fending off the attempt, with Warner adding that “no votes were altered, impacted, viewed or in any way tampered with.”
Bumps in the Blockchain Voting Road
Voatz hasn’t come away from the event unscathed, with concerns raised about its lack of willingness to cooperate with investigators and apparent its insistence that auditors sign non-disclosure agreements, which some have argued makes it hard to assess the platform’s robustness. Some voters have also apparently found it hard to verify their vote after they have done so. Like any blockchain-based venture, using the technology for voting is in theory a potential solution to voter fraud but brings with it its own complications, especially so early in the process. As time goes on and technology develops however, it surely won’t be long before we see blockchain-based voting becoming, if not the norm, then much more widespread.