back to article Zero-knowledge proof crypto scheme divines truths from nothing

Princeton University scientists have applied a cryptographic proof to verify if nuclear weapons have been disarmed, in a move that could reduce global nuke stockpiles and even help verify electronic voting. The cryptographic scheme is a form of zero-knowledge proof first developed in the 1980s. Such proofs allow a party to …

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  1. Christian Berger Silver badge

    No E-Voting cannot be democratic

    And that has nothing to do with crypto.

    The problems are much more basic. For example if you vote at home, someone can look over your shoulder so they will know what you voted for... effectively making it easy for them to buy your vote.

    An even more substancial problem is trust and democratic verification. You can verify a pen and paper based system without any special knownledge. Everyone can understand it within a few minutes. So instead of having to have knowledge and capabilities in several fields (mathematics, electronics, programming, microelectronics) you can simply look at the process.

    So this may have it's applications, e-voting certainly isn't one of those.

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

      on the other hand, if voting was to be performed at the pooling station but replacing paper vote with computer terminal, it would certainly speed up vote counting. At the expense of making it vulnerable to vote manipulation in which case proof such as this might be helpful.

      Still, I am not convinced it is worth the trouble. No matter how good your machinery is, if nothing is done about election fraud

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

        Canada still uses paper ballots. I hope we will continue to do so forever.

      2. Tempest8008

        Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

        Make it a two part system.

        You cast your vote on an electronic device, and it prints out a paper ballot appropriately marked, PROPERLY marked, and YOU take it and put it in a box after verifying it says what you want.

        You then have two sets of data to compare.

        Vote counting is instantaneous via the machine, but then a manual count is done of the paper ballots. As long as both numbers match, the electorate has still made a dumb-ass decision and voted in a bunch of wankers who will lie to us and not keep their promises.

        1. bpfh Silver badge

          Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

          > You cast your vote on an electronic device, and it prints out a paper ballot appropriately marked, PROPERLY marked, and YOU take it and put it in a box after verifying it says what you want.

          This is the way to go. The machine totals up everything in the box of how many votes were cast for each candidate. No possible errors on who was voted for as you get a final confirmation before a valid vote ticket gets printed. Votes are then tallied automatically and if there is a discrepancy with the numbers of votes in the box, then the paper votes are law.

          Problem here is that if you do that, you can have a vote validated, but not cast it in the box itself. Or drop in a blank enveloppe, or you can make an invalid vote by adding some other paper into the enveloppe before voting, so you now have 2 different numbers: What was entered and valid on the machine, and what the machine users *actually* put in the box. Not to mention the people that vote, print out their slip, realise they screwed up and print another without cancelling the previous. you cannot know from there what data is the real one, especially with places with a large proportion of luddides within the ranks of the great unwashed... .and if you are going to recount anyway, then why spend several thousand quid on each Diebold machine in the first place...

          The way to go would just to be to use the machine as a dumb printer terminal. Press the name of the candidate on the list, and it will print out a slip with that name. You can print out how ever many you want. The machine does not count or keep track. It's a plain point of sale printer. Voting slips are now all in a standard format, you save paper, and even small parties who cannot afford to print thousands of slips (like I saw in France for the European elections) are not left out, and there cannot be screwups with voting "blank" when people added a white blank slip for no candidate but the vote was rejected as invalid as the paper was not a standard size (and no-one was told about this). Keep the counters, keep the ballot box, keep the paper trail, just install a touch screen printer that prints out what ever valid candidate, or blank, or invalid as the voter wishes. It may not change much for the election itself, but it would make voting procedures easier, and save a couple of forests at the same time!

        2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

          @Tempest8008

          You don't have to count every ballot paper, just audit a few polling stations - each party gets to pick N stations, plus M randomly chosen. And auditing can be done centrally.

          (Although it would require a 'none of the above' option before this ballot spoiler was satisfied.)

        3. Christian Berger Silver badge

          @tempest8008

          I don't quite see where the advantage of the double system would be. You need expensive machinery just to save you perhaps at most an hour. Plus you need to do audits. And you probably need to recount much of your votes anyhow since someone complains.

      3. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

        Well the point is, with electron computers it's trivial to make very hard to detect widespread manipulation, while pen and paper voting is hard to manipulate and easy to detect manipulation.

        BTW, counting pen and paper votes is also rather quick and can be done in a very few hours. Most elections in Germany, for example, are counted within a single hour.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

          > Most elections in Germany, for example, are counted within a single hour.

          At what cost to the German economy?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

            There are obviously huge losses to the media/legal/newspaper and late night chat show comedian industries as everybody gets up the next day sees who has won and continues going to work.

            Compared to the useful billions spent on lawyers deciding whose chad was hanging - it does nothing to increase German GDP.

    2. JoeyG

      Re: No E-Voting cannot be democratic

      This is a tough problem but not insoluable. What you need is a way that people can change their vote after the fact (which is hard, because you need only one to be counted while leaving all their votes invisible, and you probably need the number of times any person voted to be invisible too), and a way that any proof that they voted one way or the other can be forged, at least by the voter herself, while still giving the voter cryptographic proof that her vote was counted correctly.

      And of course you want the "obvious" requirements that the vote counters cannot determine individual votes, cannot censor votes, cannot stuff votes, etc.

      This perfect storm of conflicting requirements means that academic cryptographers absolutely love this problem. Go to eprint.iacr.org and search "voting" to get a sample of their work.

      But it also brings in another human problem --- is is extremely hard to conceive of such a system where you can convince ordinary citizens of its correctness. And without that, you've got a seriously undermined democracy.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microsoft Sortware and Nuclear Weapons?

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Chairo
      Happy

      Re: Microsoft Sortware and Nuclear Weapons?

      The "r" ?

      1. Anonymous Blowhard

        Re: Microsoft Sortware and Nuclear Weapons?

        Microsoft made him type it wrong!

        Is this a proof that some marbles and some marbles makes four? I think I'm losing mine...

        1. fruitoftheloon
          Happy

          Re: Microsoft Sortware and Nuclear Weapons?

          Ab,

          I thought Baldrick was trying to count beans..?

          J.

          1. Whiskers

            Re: Microsoft Sortware and Nuclear Weapons?

            @fruitoftheloon

            I thought Baldrick counted turnips. Or rather, one turnip.

    2. dom_f

      Re: Microsoft Sortware and Nuclear Weapons?

      brings a whole new meaning to the Blue screen of Death....

  3. Whiskers

    Irradiated electors

    The part explaining how the research applies to elections seems to be missing from the report, and from the free abstract linked to. Unless, that is, all votors are to be bombarded with neutrons when registering and again when voting ...

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Irradiated electors

      For a quick tutorial on zero-knowledge proofs, try "How to Explain Zero-Knowledge Protocols to Your Children."

      1. Whiskers

        Re: Irradiated electors

        Thanks - I'll read it later

  4. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    If you bombard the warhead with enough neutrons

    It's going to be a very definitive way of proving it has been disarmed. Either that, or the host nation has a nice new shiny suspiciously circular lake in it.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: If you bombard the warhead with enough neutrons

      It's going to be a very definitive way of proving it has been disarmed. Either that, or the host nation has a nice new shiny suspiciously circular lake in it.

      I'm no expert, but I've been having the distinct impression that given the necessarily sub-critical state of the fissile material of a non-exploding warhead, the only way to generate enough neutrons to trigger it would be the real deal, ie. detonating another warhead right next to it. If that's true, the "zero-knowledge" moniker becomes particularly fitting, since you'd get a circular lake either way, and not even find out if the initial warhead was really 'live' or not...

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: If you bombard the warhead with enough neutrons

        Or you can simply invade the country.

        If they use their nuclear weapons against you - then they previously had them and now don't

        If they don't use them then they had them before the invasion and are now hiding them

  5. steven W. Scott

    Yup

    you don't exist either. I need no proof.

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