MC2 Team Takes Second Place in Cybersecurity Case Study Competition

Mon Dec 12, 2016

A team of undergraduate and doctoral students in the Maryland Cybersecurity Center (MC2) recently earned second place honors in The Economist’s case study competition on cybersecurity issues related to digital voting. Jonathan Katz, a professor of computer science and director of MC2, was the team’s adviser.

The competition—sponsored by Kaspersky Lab, the world’s largest privately held vendor of endpoint protection—challenged teams to conceive of a blockchain-based system for digital voting that addressed a set of security challenges, such as ensuring that votes would not be revealed until the end of the voting process.

Willem Wyndham, a first-year doctoral student in computer science, along with Spencer Chen and Saurav Das, both juniors majoring in computer science and mathematics, comprised the team representing MC2. Both undergraduates are members of the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES).

Blockchain technology—a distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of ordered records called blocks—could hold the key to a solution for securing digital voting systems, experts say. However, there are issues that need to be addressed before this technology can be relied upon.

The MC2 team’s solution proposed a new electronic voting system that employs blockchain technologies along with cryptographic techniques to obtain verifiable results, while still ensuring voter privacy.

At a high-level, a user’s vote is encrypted and a proof of correctness of the vote is incorporated into a public blockchain from an electronic polling station. The votes are combined into a encryption of a public tally using homomorphic encryption. At the end of the election, trusted authorities can then decrypt the tally and post the result along with a cryptographic proof that the reported results are correct. Voters can also check that their votes were included in the tally.

Nineteen teams competed in the international competition, with New York University winning first place. The MC2 team was awarded $5,000 for their second-place finish.

MC2 is supported by the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences and the A. James Clark School of Engineering. It is one of 16 centers and laboratories in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.

—Story by Melissa Brachfeld