GUELPH POLITICAST #143 – Dr. Aleksander Essex, Cyber Security Expert

“Safe and secure online voting” was the pitch from Mayor Cam Guthrie and several other candidates running for city council during the campaign, and why not? Over 100 municipalities in Ontario had online voting this municipal election, and though Guelph had it in 2014, council decided in a 7-6 decision not to try it again. So were we being too cautious?

Aleksander Essex would say we were being just cautious enough. Essex is a Ph.D., who’s now an assistant professor of software engineering with a specialization in cybersecurity and applied cryptography at the University of Western Ontario. He also runs Whisper Lab, the Western Information Security and Privacy Research Laboratory. All this is to say he’s an expert in the security concerns with internet voting.

Presently, he’s against.

“An online election doesn’t have the transparency there, it’s not an evidence-based election the same way a paper ballot is,” he told the CBC earlier this year. “My preference would be to vote online, but with this specific problem it turns out hand counting paper ballots is the best solution we have.”

Adding insult to injury on the topic of online voting is the 51 Ontario municipalities that had trouble casting their ballots for a period of time on the evening of Election Day. The fault laid with the subcontractor of a software company and a bandwidth issue. So nothing malicious, but for the people looking for reasons to hit the breaks on internet voting, human error is a pretty big hurdle to overcome.

So before we here in Guelph debate the issue of online voting again, we should start by understanding the full mechanics of how internet voting works. This is where Essex comes in as we have a complete and nearly wonkish discussion about how internet security works, why the security demands of internet voting are different from internet banking, and what exactly went wrong with internet voting this past Election Day. It’s safe to say that this is the first part of a much bigger discussion…

So cast your internet ballot to vote in favour of listening to this edition of the Guelph Politicast!

You can find out more about Essex’s work by visiting his website here. Stay tuned to Guelph Politico as the online voting debate will surely begin again once council has settled in for the new term.

The host for the Guelph Politicast is Podbean. Find more episodes of the Politicast here.

Remember that the Politicast Podbean channel is also the host for podcast versions of Open Sources Guelph. The previous Thursday’s episode of Open Sources will be posted on Mondays.

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