A recent survey from the European Commission has revealed that a majority of European citizens are worried about the possibility of foreign actors and criminals groups manipulating elections results through cyber-attacks or influencing elections covertly through disinformation campaigns.
The survey revealed that while 59 percent of EU residents are worried about foreign actors and criminal groups influencing elections covertly, 56 percent are worried about the final result of an election being manipulated through cyber-attacks.
Brits more worried about election hacking & disinformation
However, it also revealed that UK residents are more worried about these possibilities than those in the rest of Europe. While 62 percent of Brits are worried about foreign actors and criminal groups influencing elections covertly, 62 percent are worried about the final result of an election being manipulated through cyber-attacks.
At the same time, 67 percent of Brits believe in the possibility of elections being manipulated through cyber-attacks, compared to 61 percent of EU residents who feel the same.
The survey also revealed that while 75 percent of Brits are concerned about disinformation and misinformation campaigns on the Internet ahead of elections, 73 percent feel that personal data of people available on the Internet could be used to target them with political messages, thereby undermining free and fair competition between political parties. 60 percent of Brits are also concerned that online social networks could place restrictions or impose censorship on political debates ahead of elections.
According to the European Commission, a majority of citizens of EU28 countries want their governments to introduce more transparency to online social media platforms, provide equal opportunities to all political parties to access online services to compete for voters’ attention and provide a right to reply for candidates or political parties on social media.
Awareness of cyber criminals’ capabilities a factor
“When we consider how disinformation campaigns spread by outside forces attempted to exert influence over the EU referendum campaign, it makes sense that the UK is more fearful of the cyber-threat to elections than other parts of Europe, but this does not mean that those outside of the UK are safe,” says Corin Imai, senior security advisor at DomainTools.
“All Western democracies should be concerned by attempts to use cyberattacks and fake news, which could be used by hostile nation-states for their own gain. While much has been made of how utilities represent critical infrastructure which is vulnerable to cyberattack, the integrity of our electoral process is just as, if not more critical to our way of life, and should also be considered critical,” he adds.
Laurie Mercer, a security engineer at HackerOne, told TEISS that at the moment, awareness of cyber attacks and breaches is on an all-time high and confidence in Government IT systems is low.
“British citizens are worried that their data will be breached. That said, it is difficult to justify this level of concern when thinking of the paper-based elections that we hold in the UK. During British elections, voters mark ballot papers with a pen in a voting booth in a polling station, which are later counted manually. The process is physical: there is a risk of social engineering, but it is really quite difficult to ‘hack’ a paper-based election to the extent that the result can be affected.
“It is inevitable that at some point the British election process will digitise. Imagine if you could vote from home. Digital technology including biometrics and digital ledgers hold great promise for improving the process of voting. Digital transformation could reduce the cost of holding elections and referenda to the point where people could be regularly polled for their opinion on the big decisions that affect their daily lives.
“It is important that as we adopt the technology necessary to hold elections digitally, security takes the prime position. Any digital transformation of British elections needs to ensure that the security of the process increases and does not regress,” he added.