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Securing Digital Democracy

Coursera · University of Michigan · 9 HN comments

HN Academy has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Coursera's "Securing Digital Democracy" from University of Michigan.
Course Description

In this course, you'll learn what every citizen should know about the security risks--and future potential — of electronic voting and Internet voting. We'll take a look at the past, present, and future of election technologies and explore the various spaces intersected by voting, including computer security, human factors, public policy, and more.

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This course is offered by University of Michigan on the Coursera platform.
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It is recommended often because Learning How To Learn is a very fundamental part of your skill set which, sadly, many people either lack or do sub-optimal. Precisely because of that it can contain "obvious" device; because you are already (partly) familiar with it. I find it rather arrogant to say its useless for everyone. Its a fairly quick course, where you can spend more time on aspects if you desire.

This topic about the top Coursera courses or which ones you recommend comes up regularly here on HN.

On top of the mentioned Learning How To Learn I can recommend the following:

Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice by Edwin Bakker [1]

Securing Digital Democracy by J. Alex Halderman [2]

Cryptography I by Dan Boneh [3]. I didn't finish this one, but its very good...




That first one is not something I’d expect to find in on an IT site. Thanks for posting I’d like to check it out.
Securing Digital Democracy

I went through this not long after it was first offered following the 2012 elections, and it introduced me to the amazing world of security and human factors. There's more to secure systems design than just smart engineering. You have to give a lot of attention to people and priorities, and elections are a great place to see that in action.

Seconded I've taken a number of courses and this is by far the best mooc I've taken.
> Voting with paper does not scale.

Yes, it does, it just scales less well than electronic/internet voting. Each voting method (and arguably, voting system) have their + and - but paper voting has the most important benefit. Specifically, the most important one is that whilst counting we have the benefit of many eyes watching over (one of the things NSA improved post-Snowden). I know this first hand as I have participated as vote counter in the 2017 Dutch election on March 15 (can recommend volunteering for the educational experience and ability to observe alone, plus it can be seen as a civil duty). Our team consisted of approx 8 or 9 volunteers. How many people audit the source code? The patches? The build process? The hardware? Are those random people? Are computer experts biased? You don't need to be intelligent or even familiar with computers to count paper votes. You do have to be a computer expert [2] to audit the software or hardware.

> You can't make people vote everyday for example, which is required if you'd like to implement direct democracy.

I'd rather have authentic results for a few elections than have many elections with a higher potential of being bogus.

We should also not neglect that a direct democracy can be dangerously manipulated in times of fake news. The same is true with 2 or 3 elections every 4 years, but the vulnerable choke points are higher in a direct democracy.

Finally, a disadvantage is that you got so many elections that people are tired of elections. I don't know the scientific name for this phenomenon but I know an analogy: visit a supermarket and have a look at all the brands for product X where X can be peanut butter, ice cream, or beer. Result: brand loyalty. So people are gonna vote e.g. 'peanut butter' (I don't wanna name a realistic example to avoid reader assuming I'm partisan) in each of those direct democracy elections w/o looking further. Do not want!

There's an adagium in computerland "if it ain't broken, don't fix it". Paper voting isn't broken, it has a proven track record.

PS: For anyone who is interested in the history of voting security and the risks of electronic & internet voting I can recommend the course "Securing Digital Democracy" by J. Alex Halderman (one of the researchers in the Diebold affair some 15 years ago) on Coursera [1].


[2] Not sure on a better term here. Computer expert is an inaccurate global term; what is required is a rather specific skillset. Perhaps programmer or hardware hacker is more accurate. But even then programmer doesn't tell us about which programming languages are mastered, and hardware hacker is equally vague. You get the gist.

Learning How To Learn by Barbara Oakly on Coursera It teaches you fundamentals of how the brain works, and how to improve your learning. It is free. Those three factors make it a great first course.

Cryptography I by Dan Boneh on Coursera I actually can't recommend it to everyone because I didn't complete it and I just wasn't intelligent enough on the material to complete it. This requires one to be good with advanced maths, and I got migraine issues from this (same as with advanced maths in my youth). However it is very well explained. The problem was me, not Dan Boneh's course.

Positive Psychology by Barbara Fredrickson My significant other completed this course (I have not tried it yet), and highly recommends it. Its on my list.

Securing Democracy by J. Alex Halderman I thought I was interested in this subject, and I was to some extend, but I was not enough interested to follow the course to the end. However the course as far as I took it was excellent.

Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice by Edwin Bakker I didn't complete this course either but it was interesting and good nonetheless.

There are just a few of the courses I can recommend, and it doesn't contain the one I'm currently one because I haven't completed it yet (will likely include it once completed). There's also courses I cannot recommend (it also depends on the audience). I will resort to the positive angle though wink.

One thing I got from the courses is that it is OK to not complete a course. You can regard it as time waste which is fair enough. My goal is not to get a certificate though. That's merely a byproduct. My goal is to learn (which is a process), to satisfy my taste for knowledge. However Coursera changed its terms of usage last years and ever since I used the platform less.

Not only that, remember the Diebold debacle around GWB election? He was one of the people who hacked that machine, and researched other voting machines as well. He's running a course on Coursera called Securing Digital Democracy I can highly recommend it.
Not specific to cryptography, but a good understanding of voting in general is another important foundation. For that, I found this class very interesting:
And the problem always is: how are you going to verify that the terminal you're using is running precisely the version of software you've seen?

There's an awesome online course touching all those topics and then some, from J. Alex Halderman, Associate Professor in University of Michigan. It's called 'Securing Digital Democracy' and is available on Coursera:

Performed by whom?
That's a good point, and thanks for the recommendation!
Anyone interested in the security of voting systems would be well-served by watching the lectures from Coursera's course "Securing Digital Democracy":

Aug 29, 2013 · jackschultz on [Missing Story]
In case anyone is wondering about security issues, there is a course[1] on Coursera, starting again in October, about that taught by J. Alex Halderman.


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