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$200,000 is yours if you can hack this voting system

A clear summer morning at the foot of the Matterhorn. Zermatt. Canton of Valais. Switzerland. Europe. Photo by: Francesco Vaninetti/ClickAlps/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images
A clear summer morning at the foot of the Matterhorn. Zermatt. Canton of Valais. Switzerland. Europe. Photo by: Francesco Vaninetti/ClickAlps/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images

One country has challenged hackers to interfere with its electronic voting system, offering up large cash bounties as incentive.

Switzerland will start a “public intrusion test” on its polling infrastructure for a month beginning February 25.

“During the test, hackers and other independent IT specialists can challenge the Swiss Post e-voting system with deliberate attacks,” said a blog post by Swiss Post, which runs the polling system.

The test period will simulate a real federal election, meaning voting will open for four weeks leading up to “voting Sunday” on March 24. To attract as much activity as possible, people will be allowed to vote multiple times during testing, unlike a real poll.

Interested test participants must register then submit their findings for later analysis by Swiss Post.

“If [Swiss Post] is able to confirm a finding, it will release it for publication and the person who submitted the finding will be entitled to financial compensation if they were the first to report it.”

There are six categories of hacking eligible for financial reward, with a total “prize” pool of 150,000 Swiss Franc (AU$210,000):

  • Best practice (uncritical optimisation possibilities): 100 Swiss Franc (AU$140)

  • Intrusion into the e-voting system: 1,000 Swiss Franc (AU$1,400)

  • Corrupting votes or rendering them unusable: 5,000 Swiss Franc (AU$7,000)

  • Successful attack on voting secrecy on the servers: 10,000 Swiss Franc (AU$14,000)

  • Manipulation of votes detected by the system: 20,000 Swiss Franc (AU$28,000)

  • Undetected manipulation of votes: 30,000 to 50,000 Swiss Franc (AU$42,000 to $70,000)

Rewards for hacking, also known as bug bounty programmes, are nothing new in the technology world — Tesla made headlines last month challenging researchers to find flaws in its new Model 3.

But this is the first time a public voting system has been invited for attacks in return for financial rewards.

In Australia, electronic voting has been used on a small scale, first to assist voters with vision needs but more recently to help pre-polls and high-volume polling locations.

Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten called for electronic voting after the 2016 election.

“It shouldn’t be taking 8 days to find out who has won and who has lost,” he said.

“It is long overdue to look at electronic voting in this country. I think that we should, in a bipartisan fashion set the groundwork for electronic voting.”

The winner of the 2016 election, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, commended NSW for leading the way in the use of electronic systems and agreed with Shorten’s call.

“This is something we must look at. [It’s] been a passion of mine, or an interest of mine for a long time.”

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