The Engineer’s Impact

Your inside look at faculty’s research and its effect on society

In this new Q&A series, we’ll feature Western Engineering faculty members to gain a succinct overview of their research, understand its impact on society, and discover intriguing little-known facts.

Our inaugural faculty member is software engineering associate professor Aleks Essex.

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Western Engineering News | January 21, 2020

Can you describe your research (in layman’s terms)?

My research focuses on cybersecurity, data privacy, and applied cryptography. I specialize in the cybersecurity of electronic and online voting. My students and I study real-world election systems and report on the vulnerabilities and threats we discover. We are also working toward a future of evidence-based election results, and developing new encryption technologies to help lead us there.

How does your research impact society in everyday life?

Elections are a cornerstone of our society. Although they may only happen every few years, we experience their effects every day. A hacked election, or even just the perception, would have far-reaching consequences for our future. The impact of our work has not only been about cybersecurity findings.  A major component has been communicating and working with government, industry, and the media toward a robust democracy in the digital age.

What’s an interesting, little-known fact related to your research?

Did you know Canada is a global leader in digital democracy? In the past year, over a million Canadians cast a ballot online—more than any other country. Surprisingly, however, Canada has no cybersecurity standards for online voting, which has led to some concerning trends. For example, we recently found that 50% of Ontario municipal voters were uniquely re-identifiable by their online voting login credentials.