Online and even mobile voting has the potential to boost political participation around the world, but only if it can be backed by biometrics and two-factor authentication, according to a study just released.
Research produced by the Atlantic Council think tank in cooperation online protection firm McAfee concluded that the benefits of online polling would be huge: Accessibility would be easier for the disabled and elderly, costs would be lower and voting could lessen the influence of government officials, among other advantages.
However, the report also identified a number of downsides. Most significantly, it noted that hackers could potentially steal votes, paralyze an online voting system or even change results without being detected.
As a result, "the timeline will be 30 to 40 years" before the technological hurdles to online voting are overcome, Joseph Hall of the Center for Democracy and Technology said at a talk organised by the Atlantic Council.
But while Hall raises the "uncontrolled platform" of online voting on computers and smartphones as a major vulnerability, the report’s authors see biometrics as a viable solution.
“For the digital generation, unsupervised polling via mobile devices may be the “killer app” of e-voting. For that to become a reality, device security will still need to be strengthened. Biometrics (such as fingerprint scanning) and two-factor authentication (such as when a bank requires a customer to enter both a password and a code sent to his or her mobile phone) could help solve these issues”.
The report also adds that cryptography, secure software, and strong access control beyond passwords such as biometrics are "a must to ensure votes are not stolen".
This week, a biometric voter registration system helped remove 160,000 erroneous voter identities in the Solomon Islands, while 21.6mn, of Brazil’s 142.5mn eligible voters were identified by their fingerprints before heading to e-ballot boxes.