Statement on Amicus Brief

Nathan Van Buren, Petitioner v. United States


Voatz was named in an amicus brief dated July 8, 2020, advocating on behalf of “good faith” researchers and “white hat” hackers to be allowed the free and unfettered ability to attack live systems without identifying themselves or adhering to guidelines.

Voatz’s response to this brief is an effort to provide the Supreme Court with context and evidence surrounding the Voatz example used in the brief. We also provide our experience on the potential impact of a ruling that would challenge efforts to distinguish between good-faith and malicious attacks on critical infrastructure. During a live election, we should be squarely focused on securing the platform; allowing an unfettered, unannounced ability to attack live critical infrastructure and to distinguish between “good” attackers vs “bad” attackers would be a burden that undermines that focus. 

The Voatz platform has benefited greatly from our work with researchers when those researchers have worked collaboratively through consulting arrangements, “bug bounty” programs, and other authorized engagements. We have witnessed first hand the role of collaboration in evolving our platform, and in our mission of making voting secure and accessible for anyone disenfranchised by current methods of voting. We are deeply committed to ensuring that our relationship with researchers is one of mutual respect. It is within this context that technology can be appropriately developed, piloted, and deployed.  

Contrary to claims in the amicus brief filed by the Computer Security Researchers, Electronic Frontier Foundation, unauthorized research can be detrimental to innovation in technologies identified as critical infrastructure—in this case, electronic ballot marking and return. Allowing for unauthorized research in the form of hacks/attacks on live systems would lead to uncertain and potentially faulty results or conclusions, would make distinguishing between true researchers and malicious hackers difficult, and would unnecessarily burden the mandate of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Furthermore, there is simply no rationale for such access where, as described above, computer researchers can conduct security research using authorized research processes already in place (such as bug bounty programs and advanced replica systems that mirror live systems) in coordination with organizations or their customers. 

TL;DR  

  1. Voatz collaborates with a wide range of credible organizations and individuals as a reflection of its mission to provide a secure mobile voting platform. This includes engagement with independent third-party security firms, and independent white-hat researchers who participate through its bug bounty program, a methodology that is used by a majority of tech companies and secure entities, including the Department of Defense.
  1. Setting the conditions for access to computer systems that are created and maintained at great expense is just as reasonable as setting conditions for entry onto physical premises. A nuclear power plant may offer tours to the public, but if a member of a tour group goes beyond that limited authorized access and attempts to sneak into the control room, they can be prosecuted for trespassing. The same is true for virtually every other piece of physical critical infrastructure, whether it be banks, airports, or military bases. This logic should be applied to the nation’s computer systems created and maintained for critical infrastructure and in this case specifically, elections.
  1. While the Computer Researchers portray themselves as under threat of being victimized for inadvertently tripping over a restriction, the reality is different: they wish to be free to deliberately infiltrate a live system in violation of readily accessible terms, openly publish any results obtained without adhering to coordinated disclosure policies, and be immune from being intercepted or reported under contract for doing so. There is simply no rationale for such access where, as described above, computer researchers can conduct security research using authorized research processes already in place (such as bug bounty programs and advanced replica systems that mirror live systems) in coordination with organizations or their customers.  

Michigan Democratic Party Completes Successful Virtual Convention with the Help of Mobile Voting App Voatz


BOSTON and LANSING, Mich., Sept. 2, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Voatz, the Boston-based mobile voting platform, today announced the successful completion of a first-of-its-kind virtual convention with the Michigan Democratic Party. This year’s convention was the first to virtually nominate candidates for the state Supreme Court, among other elected positions, for the November ballot.

Forced to participate from their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 2,000 delegates both submitted signature nominations and voted for their preferred candidates on the mobile app downloaded to their smartphones. Besides the Michigan Supreme Court, candidates were nominated to the state Board of Education and boards at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. Roughly 91 percent of 2,092 credentialed delegates participated. 

This milestone marks the fourth convention that the Michigan Democratic Party has completed in collaboration with Voatz, with the prior three conventions occurring on-site in Lansing and Detroit and using the Voatz tablet voting system. This prior collaboration contributed to a smooth transition to an all-virtual convention for the party without disruption, and marks yet another compelling case for the benefit of piloting technology options that make elections resilient. 

“There were so many unique challenges with this year’s convention because of the pandemic, but the Voatz platform eased many of our concerns,” said Christy Jensen, Executive Director of the Michigan Democratic Party. “Voatz enabled our delegates to be verified remotely and participate through their smartphones. The convenience, safety and accessibility of voting this way was eye-opening for everyone who participated.”

Voatz’s staff worked closely with the party to ensure voter education, training, and a smooth rollout of the platform for all users. The platform was also built in cooperation with disability rights advocates, including accommodations for the visually impaired. Those who did not use the Voatz app had access to voting through a help desk. 

“We’ve always enjoyed working with the Michigan Democratic Party and this time, are proud to have helped them with their first-ever virtual convention,” said Voatz Co-Founder and CEO Nimit Sawhney. “These are such uncertain times in so many regards, including voting, and we wanted to ensure a seamless remote experience. We’re happy to have seen such positive turnout from thousands of voters, who were able to cast their votes safely and securely.”

About Voatz
Voatz is an award-winning mobile elections platform that leverages cutting-edge technology (including biometrics and a blockchain-based infrastructure) to increase access and security in elections. Since 2016 Voatz has run 70 elections with cities, universities, towns, nonprofits, and both major state political parties for convention voting. Learn more here.

About the Michigan Democratic Party
The Michigan Democratic Party fights for families, seniors, students and veterans, and works to elect Democrats across the state while holding Republicans accountable across the board.

Voatz Mobile Voting Platform Verified as Compliant with Federal Voting System Guidelines by Independent Testing Lab


BOSTON, July 21, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Voatz, a leading mobile voting platform, meets the applicable requirements for U.S. voting systems, according to Pro V&V, an independent, federally-certified Voting System Test Laboratory (VSTL). 

Pro V&V recently completed comprehensive testing of the Voatz Remote Accessible Ballot Delivery, Marking and Return (RABDMR) System.

In a 47-page report, Pro V&V concluded that the Voatz platform “meets the applicable requirements set forth for voting systems in the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) 2015 Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (VVSG), Version 1.1, with clarifications or exceptions noted in Section 4.0 of the final version of Pro V&V Test Report.” 

summary of the report has been made public on the Voatz website, along with a link to the full report.

Conducted over a five-month period, Pro V&V’s testing included Accuracy testing to verify specific voter selections and that the “voter’s encrypted, emailed ballot receipt and jurisdiction’s printed ballot match the voter’s choices.” 

Their testing also included an analysis of the Voatz mobile applications’ use of native smartphone accessibility capabilities, including screen readers, predictive layout and navigation, voice control, and flexible session timeout limitations, as well as the application’s language capabilities (Spanish). 

Security Testing involved an audit of the Voatz application source code, testing procedures and compliance with industry standards. As the report states, “Pro V&V verified various controls and measures to meet the required security standards including: protection of the critical elements of the voting system; establishing and maintaining controls to minimize errors; protection from intentional manipulation, fraud and malicious mischief; identifying fraudulent or erroneous changes to the voting system; and protecting the secrecy in the voting process. During the security evaluation, Pro V&V was able to verify that the Voatz RABDMR utilized a blockchain-based infrastructure from the server throughout the remainder of the process.”

“We are pleased with Pro V&V’s conclusions that Voatz operates exactly as it’s designed to operate,” said Nimit Sawhney, Voatz’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer. “Their findings confirm our expectations, and add further fuel to support our mission that citizens can vote securely using a smartphone application and have total confidence their ballot is counted while remaining fully secret.”

Voatz has completed 67 elections to date, performing as expected in each of them, including 11 governmental elections. In 2018, Voatz partnered with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office to enable a first-in-the-nation mobile voting pilot, which allowed deployed military service people to vote for the first time using an app on their smartphones. 


About Voatz
Voatz is an award-winning mobile elections platform that leverages cutting-edge technology (including remote identity verification, biometrics and a blockchain-based infrastructure) to increase access and security in elections. Since 2016 Voatz has run 67 elections with states, counties, cities, towns, universities, nonprofits, and both major state political parties in multiple states for convention voting. Learn more here.

About Pro V&V 
Pro V&V is one of only two testing labs that is both certified by the EAC as a Voting System Testing Laboratory (VSTL) and accredited by NIST through the National Laboratories Accreditation Program (NLAP).

See Voatz’s White Paper Published at the 2020 NASS Summer Conference

Voatz recently submitted a white paper shared by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), entitled “Standardization of Remote Ballot Marking & Return Through a Rigorous National Study & Examination”.

The paper calls for a comprehensive study focused on defining the security and functional requirements for apps designed to receive the appropriate blank ballot, enable marking of the ballot, and assure the return of a ballot using a commercial off-the-shelf computer. This study should consider if these apps can take full advantage of the security features of the platform, while being able to verify the voter, secure their markings of the ballot, encrypt & guarantee the return of the marked ballot all while assuring the anonymity of the voter.

We recommend including experts from a cross-section of organizations, federal agencies, representatives from disenfranchised communities, and technologists to determine a process to establish, test, and deploy systems that will support our democracy. The most inclusive effort will allow significant participation from the private sector and outreach to voters.

The paper contends that a well-executed and transparent study of remote ballot marking will provide comfort and confidence to citizens and other stakeholders that the systems that states are choosing to deploy meet rigorous federal government guidelines and widely accepted standards.

A link to the paper can be found on the NASS website here.

 

Utah GOP Sets the Standards for Mobile Voting in Groundbreaking Virtual Convention

Full press release issued here.

BOSTON and SALT LAKE CITY, April 30, 2020 — Voatz, the Boston-based mobile voting platform, today announced the successful completion of a first-of-its-kind virtual convention with the Utah Republican Party to narrow down key races in upcoming elections, including the race for governor and the 4th Congressional seat. 7,430 delegates were credentialed using the Voatz platform to participate across this year’s state convention, and five local county conventions. In the state convention, the party witnessed a record-breaking 93% participation rate, voting via the Voatz app using smartphones. This election also reflects the largest use of ranked-choice voting in Utah’s history. 

Voatz was engaged to work with the state at the end of March. Building upon its extensive experience with election pilots and testing, Voatz worked closely with GOP officials for alignment and training to ensure a smooth rollout of the platform. The platform was also built in cooperation with disability rights advocates, including accommodations for the visually impaired. Those who did not use the Voatz app had access to voting through a help desk. 

The elections, which opened on Thursday of last week, were completed just after midnight Saturday. To ensure the integrity of the election, the process will be audited by the National Cybersecurity Center with public participation from citizens. The results of the audit will be published in the public domain.

“We’re proud to have partnered with the Utah GOP during this challenging time,” says Voatz Co-Founder and CEO, Nimit Sawhney. “Voatz’s mission has always been to expand access to voting for those who cannot physically show up at the polls. We live in an unprecedented moment. This pandemic has significantly increased the number of those who face a risk in going to the polls, and no one should have to choose between their health and exercising their civic voice. Our platform provides another option to stay safe and healthy. We’re also proud to continue with our public citizen audits, where anyone can sign up to be an auditor of these elections. These are critical steps to continue demonstrating that auditing election results is both possible and necessary.” 

Derek Brown, Chairman of Utah Republican Party said, “The Voatz platform made possible the remote verification and voting processes for thousands of statewide delegates, allowing them to participate from the ease of their mobile phones. Using Voatz allowed us to digitally recreate our usual convention procedures, and implement technology in a way that made the process more convenient and secure. This experience was not only positive, but has opened our eyes to ways that we can operate in the future to ensure that more delegates are able to participate in the process. It has also helped us see new ways of integrating technology into our party’s operations.”

“I believe that, years from now, we will look back and see this moment, and our partnership with Voatz, as a turning point for our party,” Brown said.

About Voatz
Voatz is an award-winning mobile elections platform that leverages cutting-edge technology (including biometrics and a blockchain-based infrastructure) to increase access and security in elections. Since 2016 Voatz has run more than 60 elections with cities, universities, towns, nonprofits, and both major state political parties for convention voting. Learn more here.

About the Utah Republican Party
The Utah Republican Party is by the people and for the people. We affirm the worth of all individuals and seek the best possible quality of life for all. Learn more here.

Voatz Open Press Call Transcribed from February 13, 2020

The following Voatz press call took place on February 13, 2020 from 1-1:30pm ET. The contents of the call are transcribed below, lightly edited for punctuation and typos.

Full audio is available here.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Use the chat function to send us your questions. Direct all your questions to moderator and that way we will take them on as we have with, on a first come first serve basis. As some of you know, Voatz is regularly called on by members of the media and influencer community to respond to all kinds of conversations, including what’s been raised by The New York Times today. Voatz as a small team of technologists and election experts focused on developing technologists that is often, the company is often unable to respond to every query in every way.

So we’re doing this in an effort to respond quickly. Everyone is traveling, but they’ve taken time to jump on this call. We appreciate that, and if we don’t get to all the questions or if there’s a great amount of demand, we can host another call tomorrow or early next week. So, let’s jump right in. Thank you in advance for your participation. We’ve got three executives from Voatz, Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder, Larry Moore, Senior Vice President and Hilary Braseth, Vice President. I will continue to prioritize the questions in terms of first come first serve. Hilary, could you kick things off with a quick overview and introduction to Voatz for those who are just getting introduced to the company for the first time?

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Definitely. Can everyone hear me okay?

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

You’re coming through loud and clear.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Okay. Excellent. Thanks so much, Robert. As Robert mentioned, I’m Hilary and I’m a Vice President at Voatz, and thanks to everyone for joining on such short notice. We very much look forward to responding to your questions about the report from MIT. But before we dive in, I just want to quickly introduce Voatz so that we all have a shared context for having this conversation.

So for the last five years, Voatz has been working on developing accessible, secure, and auditable technology that provides access for people who can’t get to the polls or for whom paper ballots just don’t work. This includes people with disabilities, the elderly, overseas military service, men and women. In order to do that, we have leveraged the latest security features of smartphones, like Apple and Android, the phones that many of us use along with facial recognition technology to verify and validate the identity of the voter.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hilary

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Yeah?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

One moment. I think just out of courtesy, we should inform everybody that we would like to record this call and make sure everybody’s okay with that.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Okay.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Can you, yeah. Hi, everyone, just letting you know that the call is being recorded and will be transcribed as well. Thank you, proceed.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Okay. All right. So as I was mentioning, we leverage a handful of different technologies to provide voting access to those who can’t otherwise make it to the polls. So, I was in the midst of mentioning smartphone technology. We pair that with facial recognition technology for verification and validation of the voter’s identity. We leverage biometrics to secure and protect that voter’s identity, and we use cryptography to automatically produce a paper ballot for tabulation of the jurisdiction, and lastly blockchain for rigorous post-election audits so that we can ensure voter intent is reflected in the overall count without revealing voter identity.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Now, I realize that’s a lot of tech buzzwords and I’m sure we can get into the specifics during Q&A. Above all, I want to reiterate that we are always interested in having conversations with people who want to explore the deeper underpinnings of our technology and even experience it. We are more than happy to have that conversation.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

I also want to address up front and right away that very often our system is accused of not having a way to ensure that after a voter makes selections on a smart phone, that they don’t get changed during transmission. This is false. Every ballot submitted using Voatz produces a paper ballot, and every voter using Voatz receives a ballot receipt once they submit, and both of these documents are anonymized and encrypted, and together they form the building blocks for an end-to-end voter verified feedback loop that allows the jurisdiction to confirm that whatever the voters submitted on the smartphone is what’s actually tabulated.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

We have worked exceptionally hard alongside or election officials and independent cybersecurity organizations to develop a very strict post-election audit process that, for the first time in history, is open to anyone in the public to sign up. Anybody can be part of that audit process, and we encourage anyone to sign up to be an auditor of our pilots. I cannot emphasize that enough. These audits verify that every single ballot submitted using Voatz in those ballots, that voter intent is reflected and that tabulation is accurate. These audits are critical to both involving the community in our innovation process, but also ensuring that every single ballot submitted on our system can be verified independently without compromising the voter’s anonymity.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Last, before we dive into questions, I really quickly want to note that we have run more than 50 elections since 2016, including 9 targeted, well-designed governmental election pilots across five states for overseas voters and voters with disabilities. These governmental pilots have all been declared successes by the jurisdictions, and many of the voters who’ve used the system have shared very valuable feedback about how this voting option made participation accessible for them, and for some, this was the first time in decades.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

The reality is that our system, as it’s currently designed, actively shuts out citizens from participating in our democracy and we are of the belief that we have to move the needle forward to provide these citizens with an easier way to vote, and in that process, security has always been our number one priority in moving forward with these small, targeted, well-designed pilots so we can learn, iterate, and build, and drive progress. Our hope today is we can have a frank and transparent conversation together and that we can have a chance to respond to the latest news about a report that was written about this morning in The New York Times.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Robert, I’ll hand it back to you. I know we have a lot of questions to get through.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Great, thanks. Thanks for the background, Hilary. We’ll get through these as fast and efficiently as possible. The first set of questions come from Eric Geller, from Politico.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Is Voatz concerned about CISAs comment that is looking into MIT’s new report on the app’s vulnerabilities?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hi, this is Nimit. I can answer that. So, we are not concerned. We’ve been collaborating with CISA ever since the discussion about this report started a few days ago, and it’s been a very transparent process with them, and we’ve communicated our feedback to them already throughout the process, so not worried about anything over that.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Is the company worried that it will lose contracts due to the research?

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Hi, this is Larry. Of course we are, and we’re also concerned that this report will scare off others, but I’m at an event in South Carolina right now and the feedback that we’ve received as late as this morning, and I mean, everyone who’s read this report have had The New York Times article. But as late as this morning, the response has been very gratifying to us.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Okay. What evidence does Voatz have that the researchers are motivated by a desire to “thwart the process of innovation and progress for better voting access”? “Disrupt the election process”, “sow doubt in the security of our election infrastructure”, and “spread fear and confusion”.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah. Let me take that one again. Again, this is Larry Moore. So first of all we are, I was just trying to do this on Google Maps, but we’re probably less than two miles away as the crow flies from the MIT Research Lab in Downtown Boston, so we’re close. They could have contacted us. Had they invited us over, we had come over on the red line, but they didn’t avail themselves of the hacker one program and riffed that in the report, and yet, that would have taken a trivial effort on their part to just confirm the allegations of the jailbroken phones, but they didn’t do that.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

The other evidence is the last couple of paragraphs in their report where they say, “Given the severity of failings discussed in the paper,” which we dispute, “the lack of transparency,” which we also dispute, “the risks of voter privacy and the trivial nature of the attacks, we suggest that any near future plans to use the app for high stakes elections be abandoned.” So not a very collaborative environment here, and they use the media attention to, in a pretty aggressive way, to really try to stop this process in these pilots.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks. Why did Voatz accuse the researchers of trying to remain anonymous when they put their names on the paper?

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

I can take this one. So throughout the process of the researchers initially getting in touch with CISA, they decided to remain anonymous throughout that process, and we could have some guesses as to who the researchers were, but even up until publication in The New York Times, they refused to reveal their identity. We are unaware of why they didn’t want to reveal their identity. We would have been, as Larry mentioned, happy to have engaged in thoughtful conversation with them and helped them to validate whether or not their approach was sound.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah, and one of the thing, Hilary, I’ll just add to that, they demanded and we exceeded to the demands of having a one on, having a phone call with all of our customers, without us being present, mediated by CISA. Even on that phone call, which happened on Tuesday, a week ago, they did not disclose their own, their identity.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

If Voatz believes that the research is wrong due to the researchers use of a simulated server, will Voatz let them access its a real server to perform the same analysis?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hi, this is Nimit here again. I can answer that. Absolutely. We offered that to them as part of our initial response via CISA. 

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

There was no response from researchers. And moreover, we already have this server available. It’s to our public bug bounty program. Anybody who wishes to sign up, test that apps over there, against the real server with full functionality, is able to do that. And so that system’s already available. They willfully chose not to do it. So absolutely, one of the first things we offered in our responses, why don’t you prove all these claims on a real system, and then we can investigate further. But they did not respond to that at all.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks Nimit So the next set of questions come from Russell Brandom from The Verge. First question is, I understand from the post that the MIT researchers were testing an outdated version of your software and weren’t connected with Voatz servers. However, the post stops short of saying that the vulnerabilities discovered had been patched in recent version. I’m curious if you can speak directly to the status of those vulnerabilities.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Absolutely. So they had whole paper is riddled with holes, if I can use that word. For example, they talk about our use of the blockchain and say, executing a 51 percent attack. That attack is not possible because we do not use a public blockchain. We use a permissioned blockchain based on Hyperledger, and such an attack is not possible on that infrastructure. Similarly, they assume that by defeating the malware and the jailbreak detection on the mobile devices, that they will be able to connect to our server. Because they didn’t connect to our server, they did not experience all the checks which happen on the server, which would have prevented them from doing anything.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

And then all of their claims are based off that. That because they were able to jailbreak or successfully compromise a client device, that the assumption that device would be able to connect to our server is completely, completely flawed. And so that’s the really, really strange thing was, why would they do such a hypothetical analysis when they had a real system to actually test it out?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Similarly, there’s another-

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Nimit, a reminder to talk about the first claim on the side channel link.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Yes, I was getting there. So one of the claims they have is, as Larry mentioned, it’s called a side channel leak. To drill it down, what it means is as network traffic is passing through while people are using their devices, that by looking at that encrypted network traffic, they can deduce who you are voting for, and then start disrupting that traffic to the disadvantage of the voter. And hypothetically, that may be possible. In a realistic scenario, that’s not possible given how our pilots are conducted. Secondly, that issue of a side channel problem was fixed many months ago. So if they had used the newer version of our system, they wouldn’t have even seen that. But we want to reiterate that in a real world scenario, exploiting that is extremely, extremely hard. Especially in the case of our pilots where voters are distributed, it’s a smaller amount of voters. They’re distributed around the world, breaking into network routers, cell towers, isolating individual voters, breaking into their devices… I mean, these are… This is hypothetical scenario. It’s not realistic at all.

Larry, is there anything you’d want to add to that?

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah, the… Maybe a little humor on the side channel leak. So despite the fact that we really fixed it, I mean think about what’s going on. They have, again, to repeat Nimit, the voters, which there are less than 600 across nine pilots, dispersed around 40 countries. You’d have to gain access to the routers that are located in the cellular providers’ networks or at military bases. And just think about how hard that is. The example that they used, it basically looks trivial if you’ve got one contest and two candidates that have different length names. Bush V Gore for example, would not work.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

And so by looking at gibberish, which is what the encrypted traffic looked like, they claim that you can deduce somewhat easily the identity of the candidates that are being voted for, and then choose to disrupt the traffic back to the server so that the vote would never get registered. That also ignores the guaranteed delivery of messages, and the voter would notice this right away. So, and once again, how did they attack… Attach to the network? They would’ve seen this.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

So just to follow up on Russell’s question for absolute clarity. He asked, have they been patched? And it sounds like, did they exist? If so, have they been patched? Are they mitigated or otherwise addressed from some server-side protection? I’m curious if you can say why Voatz users should not be worried about the vulnerabilities described in the MIT paper.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Absolutely. So as Larry mentioned earlier, the side channel issue, even though we think it’s largely theoretical at this stage, was addressed in one of our versions much newer than the version which the researchers looked at. Regarding the other protection, yes. So their claim of being able to compromise a device and then being able to use that to connect to the network, that would have gotten blocked by server-side protection. And so definitely, there’s a lot of the intelligence in the system that relies on the server-side, in the cloud, which they completely missed because they were just looking at one isolated piece of the system. So as far as Voatz users are concerned, we do not believe that they should be worried at all about these vulnerabilities, which they are highlighted.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Good. Okay, thank you. So we’re going to go to the next set of questions from Alexander Culafi from TechTarget. The first question is really looking for clarity about what we were just talking about, The researchers’ paper said Voatz confirmed the existence of the side channel and PIN entropy vulnerabilities. Is this accurate? I think we’ve more or less covered it, unless there’s anything you want to add there.

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

I can add something about the PIN entropy. So the system supports PINs of various lengths, various complexities. You can even use external multi-factor devices. But keep in mind, we are focused on accessibility here to make it as convenient as possible for voters without compromising on security. And so the common approach used there is, if you don’t have biometrics enabled on your device, if you’re not using a fingerprint or a face ID, then you can as a last resort, for accessibility, resort to an eight digit pin. Now an eight digit pin has 100 million permutations. So in order to crack a pin for a pilot voter, firstly you have to get physical access to that voter’s device. Then you have to get into that device, run a brute force, it would probably take you two days at the minimum. Destroy the battery, by which time the user would have detected you. And so that’s why we feel it’s not at all realistic at the moment.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. The research paper says Voatz does not actually use blockchain technology to submit votes from a mobile device to the servers. Is this accurate? And if so, then why does Voatz official documentation suggest it does use blockchain for votes submissions?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

So this claim is completely inaccurate. Right from our very first election, we have used the Hyperledger based blockchain framework. With every pilot we’ve enhanced it, made improvements to it, and continued to do so. Our post-election pilots, ever since the third pilot done by then Denver County, have all utilized the blockchain infrastructure to facilitate the forced post-election audit, which citizen auditors have audited. NCC, which is the National Cybersecurity Center, has audited. So this claim is completely baseless. And if they had tried to dig in more into the system, into the reports which are available on our website, they would not have made this claim that we don’t use the blockchain.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Are there differences between the field-tested version of the Voatz app and the version covered in the HackerOne Bug Bounty program?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

No, there are not. The only differences, the servers they connect to, the field versions obviously will connect to a production infrastructure when a live election is in progress. The HackerOne applications connect to a replica infrastructure which is identical to the live infrastructure. Just that it’s not a live infrastructure. So you, as a researcher, can request access to test elections if you like. Like many researchers have done, you can request enhanced access where you get… We can provide these special versions of the applications which have less security so you can do more drilling and you know, more kind of under the hood studies as well. And so, but the version available on the bounty program and public production versions are the same. They connect to a different server on the backend.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. A Voatz statement said the research team used a flawed approach by constructing hypothetical backend servers, but were the modeled servers used by the research team an accurate representation of Voatz’s servers? And if not, how are they different?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

They missed a lot of things, so they were not accurate. At best, they were somewhat partial because they could not see all the components. 

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

They could not see all the components. They could not even reverse engineer all the code in the Android app that they looked at. And so they’re missing some pieces in the Android app itself. I would say they probably missed 50% of our server architecture information as well, and so that’s why we call it really flawed because had they gone through the bug bounty program or collaborated with us through other means, they could have gotten access to the full infrastructure and had a more accurate view of how our system works.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. The next set of questions come from Hiawatha Bray from the Boston Globe. Can you confirm that some other states are planning to use the vote software in this year’s election? Which states? Also, how many states are using the votes app this year?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Hilary, that’s for you.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

Yeah, I can take that one. We typically leave any announcements to the jurisdiction. So any new jurisdiction that’s going to be using our technology this year, we’ll let them make that announcement.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

How do you get a printout from your smartphone?

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

So this question might be in reference to what I said in the introductory remarks. As soon, and I was describing kind of the post vote audit trails, so we do have an infographic that delineates and tries to simplify yet still honor the technical process behind the vote system. So if anybody on this call is interested in having a copy of that infographic, please reach out to the organizer of this call and we can get that to you. But the short of it is that as soon as the voter submits her ballot on her smartphone, three really important things happen.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

One, instantly she receives a receipt with all of her selections. This receipt is anonymized, it’s password protected, and only she holds the password to see that receipt. The purpose of this receipt is so that the voter can verify her selection, as I reiterate. Simultaneously, what happens at the jurisdiction is an official ballot that is marked with this voter’s selections has been formed at the jurisdiction, and on election day two members from the jurisdiction possess the keys to unlock what we call a digital lockbox where they unlock it and print the official ballots for tabulation.

Hilary Braseth, Vice President:

At the close of the election, comparing that digital receipt with the voter’s selection that’s anonymized with that official ballot, both are signed with an anonymous ID, selection by selection validates that voter intent is reflected in the overall count and to make sure that nothing nefarious happened in the transmission of the voter’s vote. Not to get too technical, but the third and last thing that happens, because I mentioned there were three things that happen when a voter submits. The last thing that happens is when a voter submits their ballot, each oval on that ballot passes through that Hyperledger public permissioned blockchain network that Nimit was mentioning, and that serves as the final and third audit piece as an untamperable record in the event that something were to happen to the paper tally. So that digital receipt, the official paper ballot, comparing those two verifies that intent is reflected in the overall count. And then the blockchain record is the overall final audit piece. I hope that clarifies. And again, we have an infographic that delineates this.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks Hilary. Aaron Mack from Slate asks, I was wondering if votes had a statement on Mason County deciding not to use the app.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

So I’ll take that. I know the auditor there pretty well. So surely this was disappointing to us. He was under intense pressure to back out, but as late as this morning, he indicated he wished he’d stayed in. But I want to put a plug in for the Voatz system, we don’t know of another system that in fact could have backed out votes that had already been cast. And that’s a real strength of the system. So yes, votes had been submitted in Mason County. And when Paddy McGuire said I need to pull the plug, we were able to back those out and they never counted.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Got it. Kevin Collier from NBC asks, I believe Voatz has gone thr0ugh several independent audits, the results of which it hasn’t made public. When you say who each of these auditors are and will you ever make the results public?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

I can address that. So many of the audits we’ve done in the past, as we mentioned earlier, have been under stipulations warranted by the NDA, so we are unable to reveal the names. However, findings have been shared with our customers, and so there are some audits happening for which information is publicly available. One of them was conducted by the DHS. That’s report is available on our website, so if you go into the FAQ section, you’ll find a report. And as more public reports are available, we will be sharing them on our website as well.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Right. We have one more question that’s come in during the call from Rob Right at Tech Target. Voatz took issue with the fact that the researchers wouldn’t disclose their identities. But you also offered these same anonymous researchers access to your backend servers? Is that correct?

Nimit Sawhney, CEO & Co-founder:

Yes, we did. When the initial discussions were happening, these are moderated by the team at CISA. We did request the researchers to use our bug bounty system, in which case they can remain anonymous. They don’t have to reveal themselves. And prove their claims. Because they didn’t actually prove a single one of their claims. It’s all hypothetical. And so it’s like, okay, why don’t you prove this on a real system? And if it’s a real problem, other than the side channel one, which we had already previously fixed, if any of the others are real problems, minus the server one. That was a whole sense of hypothesis there, but any of the other issues they highlighted, we would have loved to engage with them but they did not even reply. Larry, you want to add something?

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

Yeah. Let me pause for just a second before we go onto any other questions and just talk about the nature of pilots. On innovations in elections, and I think I can say this with a great deal of certainty here, have started with… All innovations in elections have started with pilots, from the time the industry moved from precinct voting to vote centers in early voting, to the time when Washington and Oregon pioneered all vote by mail. These have all started with pilots. And in every single case, security was raised as an issue. And so we see this as a continuum going on. And we’re not at all saying that we’re ready for universal access or universal adoption, but we feel like we’re very responsible starting off with really the two most vulnerable cohorts in the electorate. And that’s military and overseas voters, their families and civilians residing abroad as well as voters with disability who have a legal right to access new technology as it’s presented to, for example, military and overseas voters.

Larry Moore, Senior Vice President:

So pilots are inherently part of the progress that gets made in elections, which we may agree has been largely a stagnant industry. And these attacks that have been leveled against us this morning really are a continuum of the attacks against this kind of technology that started nearly 18 years ago. And the same arguments are being used. I think the MIT researchers spent a lot of time compiling this report, and I think it would have been a lot better had they collaborated with us instead of attacked us.

Robert Dowling, Moderator:

Thanks, Larry. And thank you everyone. I know we are past time. You can send follow up questions. We’re taking them by email. Give us feedback on the call. And also if you need more information, please reach out. We’ll of course let everyone know if an additional call is necessary and gets scheduled and are happy to address follow up questions. Thanks for your time and have a great afternoon.

Voatz Response to Researchers’ Flawed Report

Voatz wishes to acknowledge the enormous effort it must have taken for the team of researchers, until this point anonymous to us, to produce “The Ballot is Busted Before the Blockchain: A Security Analysis of Voatz, the First Internet Voting Application Used in U.S Federal Elections”. 

Our review of their report found three fundamental flaws with their method of analysis, their untested  claims, and their bad faith recommendations.

First, the researchers were analyzing an Android version of the Voatz mobile voting app that was at least 27 versions old at the time of their disclosure and not used in an election. Had the researchers taken the time, like nearly 100 other researchers, to test and verify their claims using the latest version of our platform via our public bug bounty program, they would not have ended up producing a report that asserts claims on the basis of an erroneous method.

Second, as the researchers admitted, the outdated app was never connected to the Voatz servers, which are hosted on Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. This means that they were unable to register, unable to pass the layers of identity checks to impersonate a legitimate voter, unable to receive a legitimate ballot and unable to submit any legitimate votes or change any voter data.

Third, in the absence of trying to access the Voatz servers, the researchers fabricated an imagined version of the Voatz servers, hypothesized how they worked, and then made assumptions about the interactions between the system components that are simply false. This flawed approach invalidates any claims about their ability to compromise the overall system. In short, to make claims about a backend server without any evidence or connection to the server negates any degree of credibility on behalf of the researchers.

The researchers have labeled Voatz as “not transparent”. With qualified, collaborative researchers we are very open; we disclose source code and hold lengthy interactive sessions with their architects and engineers. We educate them on the critical demands of election security; they give us feedback and educate us on new best practices based on their practical knowledge of security drawn from other industries.

Voatz has worked for nearly five years to develop a resilient ballot marking system, a system built to respond to unanticipated threats and to distribute updates worldwide with short notice. It incorporates solutions from other industries to address issues around security, identity, accessibility, and auditability.

We want to be clear that all nine of our governmental pilot elections conducted to date, involving less than 600 voters, have been conducted safely and securely with no reported issues. Pilot programs like ours are invaluable. They educate all election stakeholders and push innovation forward in a responsible, transparent way. For nearly two decades, the researchers and the community to which they belong have waged a systematic effort to dismantle any online voting pilots. These attempts effectively choke any meaningful conversation and learnings around the safe integration of technology to improve accessibility and security in our elections. The effect is to deny access to our overseas citizens, deployed military service men and women, their families, and citizens with disabilities.

It is clear that from the theoretical nature of the researchers’ approach, the lack of practical evidence backing their claims, their deliberate attempt to remain anonymous prior to publication, and their priority being to find media attention, that the researchers’ true aim is to deliberately disrupt the election process, to sow doubt in the security of our election infrastructure, and to spread fear and confusion.

The reality is that continuing our mobile voting pilots holds the best promise to improve accessibility, security and resilience when compared to any of the existing options available to those whose circumstances make it difficult to vote.

Statement on the Iowa Caucus

Voatz is following the news from Iowa closely and we are interested, like everyone else, in learning what happened.

We are unable to comment on the technology used by The Iowa Democratic Party. We’ve never previously heard of the technology nor the company behind it. However, we want to make it clear that Voatz was not involved in the Iowa caucuses, and using an app to tabulate in-person caucus votes is not mobile voting.

To make the distinction abundantly clear, Voatz is a mobile elections platform built to ensure an accessible, secure voting method for groups that otherwise face difficulties with the voting options currently available (i.e. overseas citizens, deployed military, and voters with disabilities). 

We’ve been in the industry for nearly 5 years and have run more than 50 safe and secure elections. Our approach is to build our technology in a deliberate, step-by-step manner through well-designed pilots. We work closely with partnering jurisdictions to ensure a voter-verified, auditable paper trail, and rigorously evaluate the technology’s resilience and progress along the way. 

Election security is our number one priority and it should never be compromised for the sake of accessibility. We voluntarily work with the Department of Homeland Security, their Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and other independent third parties for security testing and infrastructure analysis. We are also committed to transparency which is why we were one of the first elections companies in the world to invite the research community to help test our technology through our public bug bounty program.

Voatz Shortlisted for the 2020 GSMA Global Mobile Awards

The Voatz team is delighted and honored to be shortlisted for the 2020 Global Mobile Awards in “5c. Best Mobile Innovation for Accessibility & Inclusion” section of the Tech4Good category organized by GSMA.

The GLOMO Awards provide a world stage on which to celebrate the most inspirational and innovative developments across our industry, recognising the companies and individuals leading the way in everything from 5G & intelligent Connectivity to emerging market innovation and diversity in tech. The awards attract a significant level of high-quality entries, so being nominated today is a great achievement. We wish everyone the very best of luck and we look forward to some exciting announcements at MWC Barcelona 2020,” said John Hoffman, CEO, GSMA Ltd.     

 

If you are planning to attend the GSMA GLOMO Awards ceremony in Barcelona on Feb 25, 2020, please let us know: pr at voatz.com. Our team would love to connect with you.