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Kaspersky – banned for use in US government – releases prototype of blockchain voting machine


Last week, Kaspersky’s Polys project unveiled the prototype of its blockchain-based Polys Voting Machine. The device will work alongside the Polys online election system. This is the same Kaspersky that produces antivirus software. In September 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ordered federal agencies to remove Kaspersky products from their computers.

In 2017, Kaspersky launched Polys, the Ethereum based online voting system. The platform allows ballot verification and vote tallies to be performed in a decentralized manner. Polys consists of a web-based application for creating and holding polls and an app for voting. Kaspersky plans to make the Polys protocol code open source soon.

However, not everyone is adept at using an online portal for casting their vote. The new blockchain voting machine is targeted at such a user base, allowing them to cast a vote a polling station. The device uses blockchain to store voter information in a decentralized manner. However, the name and the voting choice will not be stored by blockchain for privacy reasons. The body conducting the polls could choose several computers to save this data on, reducing the chances of vote tampering. 

“As we see from our Polys platform, e-voting can solve some of these issues, allowing more possibilities for remote participation and even increasing turnout of younger voters,” said Roman Aleshkin, head of product at Polys. “However, if physical polling stations were to be closed completely, it would deprive and alienate certain groups of people from taking part in an election and making their voice heard. That is why we introduced our new voting machines.”

The Kaspersky announcement mentions universities and businesses as the target. But a quick look at the Polys website makes it clear it’s also for governments. So how did the U.S. ban on its antivirus software come about?

Kaspersky and the U.S. government ban

As one would expect with espionage allegations, the story is not straightforward. It starts off with the CEO of Kaspersky being educated at a KGB sponsored university. The U.S. government alleges that Kaspersky used its virus software to snoop for the Russian government, and banned its software from being used by federal agencies. Kaspersky tried and failed to get the ban set aside through the U.S. courts.

The company responded to the allegations with quite a credible story. In 2014, an NSA staffer had taken classified documents and put them on a private machine at home that was infected by malware. If configured in the default way, most antivirus software will send suspected malware back to the antivirus company for investigation. 

In this case, in addition to the malware, there was also classified material sent back. Kaspersky claims that when it discovered the classified information, it deleted it.

In another twist, in 2015 Kaspersky exposed a cyber-snooping network dubbed the “Equation Group.” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) alleges this was an NSA espionage group. Subsequently, the WSJ says mysterious Shadow Brokers posted stolen NSA cyberspying tools. Hence there’s an implication of payback.

The WSJ also claims that Israel infiltrated Kaspersky’s systems and found Kaspersky’s antivirus wasn’t just scanning for viruses but also classified information. 

It isn’t very easy to judge what’s true.

But when it comes to voting, there’s already a lot of reservations about using blockchain without throwing the Kaspersky name into play.

MIT recently made a critical analysis of the Voatz application from another company, which the researchers said was flawed. Voatz responded saying it was an old version of the app.

But coming back to Kaspersky, if a company is being accused of spying for Russia, what’s a good next product? Voting machines would be it.