Student hacker may have attempted to breach West Virginia’s blockchain voting pilot

Last year, West Virginia became the first state to test out a new voting mechanism that would allow remote voters to make their selections over the blockchain. The goal was to make it easier for state residents not physically in the state, such as those serving overseas in the military, to participate in elections and have the results calculated more efficiently. Given the advantages blockchain technology can offer many applications, it is a worthwhile pilot with positive implications for a number of industries. And last year’s pilot may have been successful in more ways than one. It appears that someone attempted to hack into the system, but couldn’t.

According to a statement that was just released by West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner about threats to the election process, there could have been an attempt to break into the system last year. He explains in the letter, “In last year’s election, we detected activity that may have been an attempt to penetrate West Virginia’s mobile voting process. No penetration occurred and the security protocols to protect our election process worked as designed. The IP addresses from which the attempts were made have been turned over to the FBI for investigation. The investigation will determine if crimes were committed.”

The statement comes in response to a new federal law regarding foreign interference in domestic US elections. President Trump signed an Executive Order, “Imposing Certain Sanctions in the Event of Foreign Interference in a United States Election,” that could result in sanctions being applied to countries if any interference is uncovered from those states.

Warner adds, “Every safeguard designed for the system was very successful and worked as designed: to gain as much information as possible, and protect the sanctity of the voters’ identities and ballots. Although the details of the investigation cannot be disclosed, we can say that no votes were altered, impacted, viewed or in any way tampered with.”

The FBI’s investigation has reportedly led to the University of Michigan. According to CNN, the attempt may have been part of a course on election security, but the investigation is still continuing. The University of Michigan is involved significantly with election security research and is the home of the Michigan Election Security Commission. Warner added in his statement:

This announcement is made for its deterrent effect. This is to caution people to not even attempt to mess with an election. Even if well intentioned, the mere act of attempting to probe a voter registration list, a mobile device, or any aspect of the election process may amount to a criminal offense. We have the 2020 election coming up, and everyone should now know that local, state, and federal officials take election security very seriously.