Address security concerns before putting system to the vote

The original article was published by Allison Lai and Fatimah Zainal at The Star

PETALING JAYA: Election watchdog Bersih 2.0 is supportive of the government’s proposal to introduce electronic voting but has cautioned that security risks need to be addressed first.

“E-voting is certainly the way to go but one must not rush into it.

“While e-voting is not inherently riskier than paper-based, the

mechanisms that are needed to monitor the e-voting and counting processes and to secure them from outside manipulation are more complex and difficult to audit.

“What’s at stake is no less than the right to rule a country, ” Bersih 2.0 chairman Thomas Fann said.

To implement e-voting, Fann said the system must be able to obtain the trust and confidence of the voters and political parties.

“Otherwise, it would bring the whole election into disrepute, ” he said, adding that a careful study and pilot projects must be carried out before large-scale implementation.

Cybersecurity and IT experts however believe that e-voting is not difficult to implement as long as the government can ensure that the technology, users and procedures involved are mature in preventing vulnerability.

Cybersecurity expert Fong Choong Fook said the fundamental factor the government should consider is whether our digital infrastructure is equipped with good bandwidth, capacity and human support to make e-voting feasible.

“We can look at it from three perspectives. Firstly, what is the software and hardware that is required for e-voting and are they mature and secure enough from security threats?

“Secondly, it’s the people. Are we trained and well educated on using electronic devices to cast votes?

“Thirdly, it’s the processes and procedures serving as guidelines for the Election Commission and voters to follow since we have been so used to the conventional ballot papers system, ” he said.

Although some countries like the United States and India have been using e-voting, Fong said there are still cases of abuse with loopholes found, with instances of foreign nationals coming into the voting process.

Technopreneur and IT expert Daryl Chong said that an e-voting system based on blockchain technology can have its source codes made public so that people can see how it works and ensure it is tamper-free.

“It is a peer-to-peer technology that employs encryption and a write-once-append-many electronic ledger to allow private and secure registration of information and ballots to be transmitted over the internet.

“Blockchain makes it secure and a blockchain-based mobile app has a unique biometric safeguard system in place that is as good as facial recognition and thumbprints.”

Both Fong and Chong also agreed that the government needs to conduct intensive feasibility studies and simulations before implementing e-voting.

“They need to experiment and conduct simulations, including getting the private sector and security experts involved to ensure the whole system is foolproof, ” said Fong, adding that this cannot be done overnight.

Countries that have experience in implementing an e-voting system include Estonia, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, India and South Korea among others. There are three main types of e-voting, namely machine counting, computer voting and online or internet voting.

Since 2005, Estonia has introduced remote internet voting on a national scale, first used in its municipal elections and used again in 2007 for national parliamentary elections, another world first.

In Switzerland, e-voting was introduced on a limited basis in 2003 and up until the beginning of 2019, Internet voting was available in several cantons.

E-voting in Switzerland is currently suspended due to security concerns found in the online voting system.

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