Protecting privacy at the ballot box with secure multiparty computation

Protecting privacy at the ballot box with secure multiparty computation
Computer science professor Tiark Rompf, left, and principal investigator Milind Kulkarni, an electrical and computer engineering professor, are part of a project that will combine programming languages and security research to help build computational trust. Their project, called HACCLE, is receiving fuding from the Intelligence Advanced Research Activity, an organization within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Credit: Purdue University photo/Vincent Walter

Shortly after the start of the new year, Americans around the nation will start returning to polling stations to vote in presidential primaries. How confident they feel in the voting process could depend on something called "secure multiparty computation."

Secure multiparty allows different sides to work together and solve a problem. It can, for instance, keep bids private during an auction or guarantee privacy during election voting. Most importantly, it allows for trust on social and commercial interactions.

Computer engineering and computer science researchers at Purdue are working together to find the answer.

The project, named High Assurance Compositional Cryptography: Languages and Environments (HACCLE), is working to utilize the areas of security and programming language to solve the questions and hurdles created by current methods.

"The challenge is that there are a wide range of questions that need to be addressed when developing those applications," said Milind Kulkarni, an associate professor in electrical and , who is leading the project. "And every time you answer these questions differently, it takes a heroic effort from cryptographic experts to deliver an effective solution."

Kulkarni said the Purdue researchers are working to take the task of developing secure multiparty applications out of the realm of experts and make it accessible to ordinary programmers.

HACCLE is intended to provide and the verification, optimization, and execution tools to address the challenges currently encountered. The ultimate goal is to allow programmers to write secure multiparty computation applications with minimum effort and maximum performance.

Additional faculty involved in project research are Tiark Rompf, Roopsha Samanta, Hemanta Maji, Aniket Kate, Christina Garman, Benjamin Delaware and Jeremiah Blocki, all professors in Purdue's Department of Computer Science. The group is collaborating with Reservoir Labs, a technology and solutions company in New York City.

The project recently was awarded grant funding by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, an organization within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Through IARPA's Homomorphic Encryption Computing Techniques with Overhead Reduction, the HACCLE project will receive up to $10.7 million.

Currently, a number of issues can come up when two or more parties attempt secure computation. These range from how much do the parties need to communicate to what specific cryptographic techniques will work best to implement this work.

"That's where the programming languages magic comes in," Kulkarni said. "Faculty in the programming languages and security areas, both strengths at Purdue, are designing new domain-specific languages to write secure multiparty computation applications."

Rompf says the technology will cross disciplines like never before.

"This project is especially exciting because it is building bridges in multiple ways," he said. "First, between programming languages and security research and the respective communities. Second, on campus between the College of Science and the College of Engineering. True progress can only be made by crossing boundaries, and this is why we will be successful."

Blocki, an assistant professor of computer science, says the new tools can allow organizations or individuals to cooperate in fundamentally new ways, even if they distrust one another.

"Secure multiparty computation allows our (mutually distrusting) parties to compute any function of their joint data without exposing any confidential data," he says.

He explains it this way: Say there is a group of people, and the goal is to figure out if there are any romantic pairings. Each person writes in the name of their crush. If two share a crush, both parties will be notified at the end of the protocol. If not, no one will learn of what a person entered.

"As part of the project we are working to improve the core cryptographic primitives that are used in secure multiparty computation. We also want to develop efficient techniques to help compose these primitives in a provably secure way and to estimate the overhead of the final protocol when we combine several different cryptographic primitives," Blocki said. "Ultimately, the goal is to develop a compiler that allows a developer to specify a protocol in a high-level and then compile the high level description into secure and efficient multiparty protocol."

The languages will allow developers to write high-level distributed applications for the secured multiparty computation while specifying what security properties they want to guarantee. HACCLE research also will provide strong formal guarantees that the computations provide the desired functionality and security.

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User comments

Jun 06, 2019
terrific toys... think these will wirk to improve the honesty of vote counting?

until the GOP & NRA traitors, fuehrer putin subverted, are indicted & brought to justice?

Their quisling corruption will continue to dominate the States voting systems.

Once again to nullify Citizen's voting rights & all attempts at reform.

Without a sea-change to restore America's Honor by enforcing the Laws & Constitution?
Basically voting is a useless act in futility.

Jun 07, 2019
If you got a better way than voting, @rr, I'd love to hear it, but keep in mind a lot of people fought and died to get that vote. Might as well use it while we're tussling over the enforcement.

Show up and vote. It makes the assholes' job more difficult.

Jun 07, 2019
BTW, ballot privacy is secondary to ballot security: ensuring the peoples' vote is secure against tampering is more important than ensuring their privacy in their votes. This is not well understood.

Imagine the chaos if tens of millions of people come forward and say "I didn't vote for that/him/her. You are lying. Your voting security sucks liquid shit through a straw attached to a bag of feces."

Jun 07, 2019
DS, i wish i was as confident as you, that my votes are not just winding up in a MIR shredding machine.
MIR - Made In Russia

As Pogo put it "We have met the Enemy. And He is Us!"

I understand that we cannot place all the blame on putin & the saudis, They are just happily taking advantage of tour declining social standards.

With lucrative nudges for the corrupt among us.

America's addiction to pretend patriotism by those who never sacrificed on behalf on anybody else, in their lives.

Our addiction to mind-numbing drugs & booze.

Our infatuation with penis-replacing obsolete firearms.

Our avaricious gluttony devouring this Worlds resources.

Our denial of the Humanity of women & anyone else we could bully.

jeebus! it leaves me depressed.
maybe a drink would perk me up?
just a small finger or three of Rye?
applied for medicinal purposes only.

Jun 19, 2019
If the techniques you develop are valid, and the implementation is flawless, and the context is flawless, voting using this system might be trustworthy. But I would not want my city, my state, or my country to take the risk of trying it.

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