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Switzerland offers cash to hackers who can crack its e-voting system

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Switzerland offers cash to hackers who can crack its e-voting system
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The Swiss government is offering up to €44,000 to hackers who can detect vulnerabilities in its e-voting system.

So-called white hat, or ethical, hackers will be given the opportunity to look for vulnerabilities during a dummy vote running for a period of four weeks — the duration of a Swiss federal election — from February 25 to March 24.

Swiss Post, the organisation behind this "Public Intrusion Test" (PIT), has set aside CHF150,000 (€132,000) to reward the hackers.

Hackers will receive between CHF30,000 and CHF50,000 (up to €44,000) for manipulating votes in a way that is undetectable, and CHF20,000 (€17,600) for manipulating votes in a way that would be detectable by trusted auditors.

Lower amounts of cash will be handed out to hackers who can flag ways to violate voter privacy, infiltrate the servers or reveal best practices that have not been followed.

E-voting — or voting over the internet — has been trialled in 15 of the 26 Swiss cantons since 2004 to allow expats to cast their votes. However, only three cantons currently use the system regularly.

Plans to increasingly digitalise voting to make it as accessible as the ballot box and postal votes were outlined by the Federal Council in 2017.

Swiss Post said that "in order to expand online voting to a broader public, the federal regulations oblige the Cantons to meet an additional set of requirements."

"By performing the PIT, the Confederation and the Cantons are hoping to get a valuable outside view on the system by a large number of competent people," it added.

Security concerns have curtailed the spread of e-voting internationally.

France dropped plans to allow expats to vote electronically in legislative elections in 2017 because the National Cybersecurity Agency had warned of an "extremely high risk" of cyber attacks.

Some countries allow e-voting at the local level, although usually on a somewhat limited basis, meaning not all municipalities have put the system in place. These include countries like Canada and India. Half of US states also allow specific military personnel to vote online.

The small Baltic state of Estonia became the first country to hold nationwide elections using e-voting in 2005. The system has since been deployed to parliamentary elections with early a third of voters casting their ballots online in 2017.