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New MIT Paper Rejects Blockchain-Based Voting Systems

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As media outlets waited to announce a winner until the Saturday following the election day, calls for how blockchains would have made this process easier emerged, most prominently perhaps by  Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance, as well as Vitalik Buterin, who added that, though there are technical challenges, the call for a blockchain-based, mobile voting app “is directionally 100% correct.”

A new report from MIT, however, strongly argues against the idea of blockchain-based e-voting, largely on the basis that it will increase cybersecurity vulnerabilities that already exist, it fails meet the unique needs of voting in political elections and it adds more issues than it fixes. 

The report’s authors are Ron Rivest, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) professor and one of the creators of RSA encryption; Michael Specter; Sunoo Park; and Director of MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative (DCI) Neha Narula. The paper will be published in the Journal of Cybersecurity later this month. 

“I haven’t yet seen a blockchain system that I would trust with a county-fair jellybean count, much less a presidential election,” said Rivest in a blog post accompanying the report. 

Why online voting isn’t like digital banking

The report recognizes the desire for people to want the voting process to be faster and more efficient, but pushes back on the idea that just because we do things like shop or bank online, that means elections should be done in the same way. 

One reason is that those systems have “higher tolerances for failure.” For example, if an issue were to occur, such as credit card fraud, you could block your card and a bank might even reimburse you. But when it comes to election, there is little remedy if a vote is altered or not delivered, particularly given that online voting systems might not always recognize when one of these actions occurred. 

Read more: Overstock Touts Voatz ReBlockchain Voting App as Solution to US Election Fracas

Another is that anonymity, or at least detaching the way you voted from your identity, is an important part of any electoral process. While a bank or shop can offer you a receipt, proving you did something to detect or prevent fraud, with voting, it’s important no such receipt exists so votes can’t be coerced or sold. 

“For elections there is no insurance or recourse against a failure of democracy,” Rivest says. “There is no means to ‘make voters whole again’ after a compromised election.”

And the cybersecurity issues are numerous. 

Issues with cybersecurity in online voting

One issue with online voting is that it opens itself up to attacks that are both scalable and undetectable. 

In terms of scale, according to the report, a zero-day Android vulnerability only cost $60,000 to acquire in 2012. A zero-day vulnerability is a security flaw that is known about but for which a patch isn’t yet available. 

The authors estimate that testing and weaponizing such a vulnerability would increase the associated costs by two orders of magnitude, meaning an election exploit could cost $6 million. While that may seem like a large sum, it’s little for a nation-state adversary, especially in comparison with the roughly $768 million that was spent on the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. This makes a scalable attack on an election system attractive, in terms of getting a bang for your buck. 

Such an attack could also be undetectable, resulting in large numbers of votes being exploited. This is, in part, due to the number of vendors and devices that would have to be involved. 

“Voting system flaws might be introduced by the voting software vendor, the hardware vendor, the manufacturer, or any third party that maintains or supplies code for these organizations,” reads the report. 

“A voter using a phone to vote depends not only on the phone vendor, but on the hardware companies providing drivers for the device, the baseband processor, the authors of third-party code in the voting software, the manufacturer of the physical device, and the network or any other systems that the device relies upon to cast the vote.”

No concrete solutions to non-hypothetical problems

Even important tools like encryption don’t offer a concrete solution. While encryption does offer some protections, it doesn’t prevent system bugs. Plus, implementing it is difficult, not to mention there are numerous examples of flaws in a system allowing cryptographic protocols to become compromised. 

These concerns aren’t just hypotheticals. The report notes that  electronic-only voting devices at polling stations used in Georgia and Maryland, for example, have previously been shown to be vulnerable, and internet voting systems in cities like Washington, DC, and countries like Estonia and Switzerland were found to be vulnerable to serious failures. 

Read more: Downvoted: Security Researchers Slam Voatz Over Stance on White-Hat Hackers

For comparison, tried-and-true methods like mail-in ballots make a large-scale attack on them incredibly difficult to conduct with any ease because of substantial friction points, like needing physical access to the ballots.. 

When asked whether there were lessons that the U.S. could take from other countries when it comes to voting online, a MIT CSAIL spokesperson said, “None that are positive. Online voting systems will suffer from major vulnerabilities for the foreseeable future, given the state of computer security and the high stakes in political elections.”

The arguments for blockchain-based voting – and why they don’t hold up

The report lays out a number of arguments that have been held up by blockchain proponents. These include using coins as votes, using a permissioned blockchain, and employing zero-knowledge proofs for secret ballots. 

Voting with coins

Coins as votes is one model the report identifies as problematic. In it, a registered voter has a public/private key pair created by the voting authority, with each voter sending their public key to the voting registry. 

“Then, the voter registry spends one coin to each public key. To vote, each user spends their coin to the candidate of their choice. After a period, everyone can look at the blockchain, total up each candidate’s coins, and select the one with the most coins as the winner,” reads the report. 

Read more: Trump’s Post-Election Purge Reaches US Cybersecurity Agency

The issue here is that it doesn’t provide a secret ballot – all the votes are on a public blockchain. It also relies on users being able to get their votes on the blockchain in a certain amount of time, something that could be compromised through distributed denial-of-service attack, making the network unavailable to users. 

An adversary could drive up transaction fees on a public blockchain, further hampering the “vote.” Or the blockchain could be compromised if a majority of the miners or validators collude, creating multiple versions of the blockchain. 

Finally, it relies on private key management, something that is user-dependent and, as cryptocurrencies have shown, something people are often bad at implementing. 

Permissioned blockchains

Another proposal the report challenges is using a permissioned blockchain. A permissioned blockchain is one in which a central actor approves who can be a part of it. There is also usually a control layer that governs what actions participants have permission to perform.

Like voting with coins, use of this strategy would still suffer from key management vulnerabilities. Furthermore, permission parameters would also keep users from reading the blockchain to verify their votes were counted in order to preserve the secrecy of people’s votes. 

A permissioned blockchain would also likely run on a smaller number of servers, with most of them running the same operating system, meaning it would be easier to compromise. 

Zero-knowledge proofs

A final proposal that MIT examines is the use of zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs). ZKPs are a cryptographic technique that allows two parties on the internet, such as an app and a user, to verify information with each other without sharing the underlying data related to this information. This would seemingly help ease the tension between secrecy and making a vote publicly verifiable. 

But the report notes that, aside from the potential bugs in ZKPs and challenging cryptographic processes, it also doesn’t prevent physical monitoring by “coercers or vote buyers.” 

Additionally, the report argues that “zero-knowledge proofs are designed for a setting where the party with secret information wants to keep it secret (that’s why they’re using zero-knowledge proofs) – they generally do not prevent that party from revealing information voluntarily.”

Read more: ‘Snake Oil and Overpriced Junk’: Why Blockchain Doesn’t Fix Online Voting

A final and fundamental concern about any digital processes such as these, however, is that they rely on various vendors, hardware and software, all of which add additional complexities and likely vulnerabilities to the voting process. 

“The biggest issue is that blockchain-based approaches require that voters use software in which a single bug could undetectably change what they see – for example, showing them that their vote was cast for a certain candidate when it actually wasn’t,” said a MIT CSAIL spokesperson.  “Blockchain is ripe for situations where election results could be changed in ways that are undetectable, or, even if detected, would be irreparable without running an entire new election.”

The report also plays up that elections have stakes beyond just losing money, as would be the case if these online voting tools were compromised in regards to cryptocurrencies. 

Blockchain has lots of potential, just not for actual voting

The report notes that they aren’t addressing voting within a blockchain, such as EOS holders voting for validators in consensus networks, or Augur users using REP to vote on contract outcomes. These may fulfill some aspects of voting, but don’t map onto the system of political elections well, and leave many vulnerabilities that can’t be accounted for. 

The report also recognizes it’s focusing on voting, not areas such as voter registration management or auditing. 

In conclusion, the report notes that blockchain and online voting don’t address fundamental security concerns; instead, they introduce more vulnerabilities than are present in current in-person and mail-in ballot systems. 

“If vote-casting is entirely software-based, a malicious system could fool the voter about how the vote was actually recorded,” said Rivest in an accompanying blog. “Democracy – and the consent of the governed – cannot be made contingent on whether some software correctly recorded voters’ choices.”





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Apple to Debut Faster Watch with Temperature and Glucose Testing Capabilities, AAPL Stock Slightly Up

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Beyond the company’s move in seeking advancement in its smartwatch, it is also working assiduously to explore new areas, notably in the Apple car pursuits.

American multinational technology company Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL) is set to debut a faster model of Apple Watch as the tech giant seeks to beat competitors in terms of product performance. Per a Bloomberg report citing people close to the company’s plans, the proposed new Apple Watches will also brandish the abilities to check temperatures and user’s blood glucose levels.

The Apple Watch was debuted in 2015 and has grown to become a vital part of the Cupertino-based company’s product suite. While the watches have seen bigger upgrades in times past, the currently scheduled boost will place it at the echelon of smartwatches with unique capabilities in the market. The temperature check feature became a necessity following the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased demand for handy temperature checkers.

As against the usual format for checking blood glucose levels, the feature designed into the Apple Watches will not involve pricking fingers for traces of blood. Instead, the Apple technology will analyze the blood without being invasive, according to the Bloomberg report. The new model dubbed the Apple Watch Series 7 also has a faster processor, improved wireless connectivity, and an updated screen. 

The Apple Watch with the temperature capability may not be hitting the market until the next year 2022, while that designed to check blood glucose may take a couple more years before it is available commercially.

Apple stock is currently trading at $127.79 in the pre-market, representing a growth of 0.35% from the previous close.

Beyond Apple Watch, the Company Is Expanding Its Product Suite

One of the major tenets of the top technology companies including Apple is the ability to innovate and match with the competition. Beyond the company’s move in seeking advancement in its smartwatch, it is also working assiduously to explore new areas, notably in the Apple car pursuits.

While the details of the Apple self-driven car production remain sketchy, CEO Tim Cook once confirmed the firm is building its tech in autonomous systems. Per his word;

“We’re focusing on autonomous systems. It’s a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of seeing it as the mother of all AI projects. It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.”

Many have attributed this comment to the proposed self-driven cars which have been spotted on many occasions being tested by the company on the streets of California. The latest update from the Apple cars involves the potential pursuit of a partnership with either Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL) and BYD Ord Shs A (SHE: 002594) for Lithium Iron phosphate batteries supply, according to an earlier Coinspeaker report.

The deal has neither been confirmed by either Apple or the two companies, however, people close to the matter noted the conditions to set up a plant in the United States set by the former is of disinterest in CATL. The cost considerations and the unrest between Washington and Beijing are the major considerations to pull the deal through.

Apple’s ties with Chinese firms are well engrafted as the assembling of the proposed upgraded main Apple Watch will be done by Luxshare Precision Industry Co Ltd (SHE: 002475). The Apple Watch SE is billed to be assembled by Foxconn Technology Co Ltd (TPE: 2354) alongside Taiwan’s Compal Electronics Inc (TPE: 2324).

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Benjamin Godfrey is a blockchain enthusiast and journalists who relish writing about the real life applications of blockchain technology and innovations to drive general acceptance and worldwide integration of the emerging technology. His desires to educate people about cryptocurrencies inspires his contributions to renowned blockchain based media and sites. Benjamin Godfrey is a lover of sports and agriculture.



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El Salvador Becomes First Country to Accept BTC as Legal Tender, Its Cogress Approves Bitcoin Law

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President Bukele said the country may explore Bitcoin mining as a way to put its geothermal energy option to full use.

Latin American nation, El Salvador has made history as the first country to accept premier digital currency, Bitcoin (BTC) as a legal tender. Per a Coindesk report, a supermajority in the country’s legislative arm voted in favor of the Bill proposed by President Nayib Bukele to officially recognize the cryptocurrency as an official currency to complement the United States Dollar it currently uses.

Bitcoin has come a long way from when it was first introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto with the publishing of the currency’s Whitepaper in 2008, and the eventual launch of the currency in 2009. Since then, the coin has been tossed around in many scenarios, some encouraged its growth, and others largely held it bound. Government regulations, energy consumption criticisms to mention a few accounts for the latter, however, events in the past year seeing multinational corporations begin to invest and acquire the digital currency stirred the changes we are seeing today.

While many governments are exploring means to clamp down on crypto and Bitcoin activities, in particular, the El Salvadoran legislature has teamed up with Bukele to back the coin for its uniqueness. The vote that passed the bill came with 62 members voting in favor, 19 voting against, and 3 abstentions. The nation’s move is against the norm and there are plans for government officials to go explain the plans of the new law to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Bitcoin Is a Legal Tender in El Salvador: Here’s What to Expect

With Bitcoin becoming an official legal tender – as will be finalized when President Bukele signs it into law – businesses are now mandated to accept the cryptocurrency for payments. Beyond payments, all forms of taxes can be paid using BTC, transactions or investments involving Bitcoin will not be subjected to a capital gains tax.

The acceptance of Bitcoin as a legal tender is not targeted at offsetting the role of the Dollar in the country’s payment ecosystem and will serve as the reference point for the new form of money. The issue of volatility is also going to be addressed through a Trust that will be opened at the Development Bank of El Salvador. This trust is going to help mitigate the risks associated with price fluctuations as it will help merchants in the conversion of their Bitcoin holdings to Dollar in real-time. An initial allocation of $150 million will be made into the new Trust.

“If there’s an ice cream parlor, he doesn’t really want to take the risk, he has to accept bitcoin because it’s a mandated currency but he doesn’t want to take the risk of convertibility, so he wants dollars deposited in his banking account, when he sells the ice cream, he can ask the government to exchange his bitcoin to dollars,” said President Bukele in a Twitter Space conversation hosted by Nic Carter of Castle Island Ventures. “Of course he can do that in the markets also but he can ask the government to do it immediately.”

In addition, President Bukele said the country may explore Bitcoin mining as a way to put its geothermal energy option to full use.

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Benjamin Godfrey is a blockchain enthusiast and journalists who relish writing about the real life applications of blockchain technology and innovations to drive general acceptance and worldwide integration of the emerging technology. His desires to educate people about cryptocurrencies inspires his contributions to renowned blockchain based media and sites. Benjamin Godfrey is a lover of sports and agriculture.



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Robinhood IPO on Horizon with $30 Billion Valuation Expected

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Robinhood IPO will offer over 22 million Class A shares, whereby they will be priced at $16-$19 per stock.

Robinhood Markets Inc, an America-based fintech company, has inched its way towards a $30+ billion IPO deal following immense growth in the past year. Its rapid development is attributed to its trading platform’s user-friendliness and simplicity, making it popular among the younger generation. Currently, it boasts of about 13 million users and a net value of over $11 billion having experienced a revenue ascent to around $260 million in 2020 from around $110 million in 2019.

Nevertheless, Robinhood has faced heavy backlash and lawsuits in the past year. The iconic Berkshire Hathaway investor Warren Buffett discredited the company’s reputation for easy trading by saying that it promotes a casino-like behavior. His partner Charles Munger backed him up saying it makes the stock market a gamblers’ ground and it makes money in “dirty ways”.

Additionally, a complaint was filed by Massachusetts regulators against Robinhood. Accusations ranged from their gamification of trading and use of aggressive methods to failure in preventing disruptions and outages in their trading platform. Rich Repetto, a brokerage analyst from Piper Sandler, reported that the company’s “zero commission” statement was true, however, its order flow payments and high trading volumes did more than cater for the revenue gap.

Furthermore, multiple class-action lawsuits have hit the company following their trading outages last year. Many users reported being locked out of the trading platform during major moves. Recently also, users reported restrictions from purchasing volatile stocks and unresponsive customer service.

Robinhood reacted to critics, saying that their users preferred the new way of trading compared to traditional methods. The company also reiterated its transparency and distanced itself from any conflicts of interest in its business model. More recently, the company has improved their customer service one of their customers committed suicide.

Amidst the chaos, Robinhood’s iOS downloads increased exponentially and more than $3 billion was raised by venture capitalists.

Bigger Picture on Robinhood IPO

Robinhood completed all requirements for its $30+ billion IPO offering, with Nasdaq as its stock exchange preference. It also widened its executive team to include Silicon Valley and Wall Street veterans such as Amazon’s Jason Warnick.

Silicon Valley’s unicorn has continued to express its novelty by allowing non-professional investors access to its shares before its IPO debut. Robinhood IPO will offer over 22 million Class A shares, whereby they will be priced at $16-$19 per share. Consequently, Robinhood users can now purchase the company’s shares on the Robinhood app. This move is intended to decentralize investment by making it accessible to people of diverse financial status rather than professional traders and the wealthy few.

To encourage both novice and experienced investors, Robinhood has provided prospectus with detailed information on its IPO including its business model, administrative personnel, and risks of investment.

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A financial analyst who sees positive income in both directions of the market (bulls & bears). Bitcoin is my crypto safe haven, free from government conspiracies.
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