Cybernetica’s senior researcher receives a new grant to research the security of i-voting

Person using a keyboard and a mouse

Estonian Research Council has awarded Jan Villemson, a senior researcher at Cybernetica, with a research grant of over 900 000 Euros. The grant aims to research the security and risk management of i-voting over the course of five years. Villemson's study will explore the potential of new technologies in i-voting, analysing their implications and strategies to tackle emerging challenges. This initiative stems from the relevance of i-voting in Estonia and the necessity to continually improve the technology in response to evolving demands.

According to Dan Bogdanov, Cybernetica’s Chief Scientific Officer, the election technology is evolving rapidly – Estonia might see its first smartphone-based voting already in 2025. “However, we should be simultaneously preparing for potential threats such as reputation attacks and AI-generated misinformation campaigns. Additionally, we have to plan a long time ahead how the i-voting technology will be able to exist securely next to quantum computers. At this moment, we’re talking about 10-20 years,” Bogdanov continued. He outlined the importance of conducting base research to be prepared for the aforementioned threats, and expressed gratitude for entrusting this crucial research to Cybernetica's team, particularly Jan Villemson.

The newly funded project encompasses various research focuses. “Firstly, we will study how the accuracy of i-voting processes can be assured without compromising its secrecy. Then, we will focus on the developments of quantum computers, since many of the current cryptographic systems might become obsolete in case of a powerful quantum computer,” commented Villemson. He also aims to investigate the factors influencing social trust in specific voting mechanisms.

Tanel Tammet, a professor at TalTech specialising in applied artificial intelligence and a member of the grant evaluation board, highlighted the evolving complexity of i-voting systems: “We definitely need enhanced reliability in i-voting processes, where, first and foremost, the process is decentralized. Additionally, we need better mitigation for potential human errors.”

Jan Villemson, who has been researching electronic voting since 2011 and has made significant contributions to the field, expressed his commitment to advancing the transparency and security of voting systems. His past work includes the development of mobile device-based vote verification mechanisms and enhancing the transparency of central election systems. Additionally, he has conducted comparative studies on the security of paper-based and i-voting methods.