Russian cybersecurity firm with alleged Kremlin ties wants to bring elections online – and protect them with the blockchain

Russian cybersecurity firm with alleged Kremlin ties wants to bring elections online – and protect them with the blockchain

A Russian cybersecurity firm accused of helping Kremlin spies conspire against the United States is promising to bring elections into the digital age through – what else? – the blockchain.

Polys, as it is called, is an online platform that allows for large organizations or municipalities to organize an online vote. Security is guaranteed through the smart contracts protocol used in Ethereum, says its creator, Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab.

Through polynomial encryption, the voting platform ensures that no verified voter can enter more than one ballot and guarantees anonymity by decentralizing the master key which could possibly reveal their identity.

“As in any vote, there are several key requirements that would make online voting trusted and secure — transparency of the process, anonymity of a voter and their confidence that their vote won’t be altered in favour of a candidate or option they didn’t choose.

Polys guarantees that these requirements are fulfilled, by using a combination of blockchain and transparent crypto-algorithms,” said a spokesperson for Kaspersky Lab.

Polys is perhaps preempting a global paradigm shift in public administration, as more and more public services move online, epitomized by the revolutionary strides made in Estonia’s e- residency program, and more recently, secure e-voting for international investors in an Estonian company.

However, there may be some reasons to doubt the good intentions of the Kaspersky Lab, once famed for decoding sophisticated malware and viruses that wrecked Iranian uranium refineries in 2015 and Middle Eastern banks in 2012.

Earlier this year, its products were removed from a list of approved vendors of technology equipment for use by the US government after its connection to backdoor NSA hacking was uncovered.

Eugene Kaspersky, the lab’s founder who was trained at the KGB’s Institute of Cryptography, Telecommunications and Computer Science in the 1980s, says that his company is simply collateral damage in a growing war of espionage between Russia and the United States.

“Every major cybersecurity firm in the world can have contracts with foreign governments and security agencies. That doesn’t mean they will steal information on their behalf,” said Sico van der Meer, a cybersecurity expert at the Netherlands’ Clingendael Institute.

Regardless of the company’s alleged complicity in international espionage, Kaspersky’s proposal of digital elections secured through the blockchain come at a time when trust in cyberspace is generally reaching a low ebb.

The Netherlands, for example, entirely did away with electronic software to count votes in elections to the Dutch Parliament this spring, largely as concerns about foreign interference into elections have expanded since the US presidential election in 2016.

“The time isn’t right to introduce this. Even if blockchain technology is strong and secure, the public predominately associates it with Bitcoin, which is considered to be quasi-criminal. Add on Kaspersky’s repetitional problems, and you see that it will struggle to get traction,” said van der Meer.

According to the Kaspersky Lab, however, its own encrypted blockchain can help solve the credibility problems that are now endemic to elections around the world.

“Due to blockchain’s decentralised nature, the accuracy of voting execution can be verified by the network’s participants. The whole voting data is stored not on servers, but in information blocks on the computers of all network participants. To erase it, a hacker would have to breach all of the computers and gain access to the individual sets of data,” said a spokesperson for the laboratory.

Polys is now available for use worldwide as a freemium platform.

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