Voters in the EU are worried about Election Hacking and Disinformation


UK voters are among the most concerned in Europe regarding the potential election hacking. A new European Commissions study reveals that UK voters fear cyber-attacks could affect upcoming elections.

The fear of Election Hacking

More than 27,000 citizens across the EU were polled with face-to-face interviews to better understand their concerns ahead of the upcoming European elections in May 2019. An average of 61 per cent of participants claimed to be worried about potential cyber-attacks manipulating the results of the election. However, this figure rose to 67 per cent in the UK, one of the highest of any country. 64 per cent of UK voters were also more likely than most
Europeans (59 per cent) to fear foreign actors and criminal groups influencing elections covertly.

Across Europe, 67 per cent were said to be concerned about their personal data being used to target the political messages they see. This was a reference to the Cambridge Analytica scandal that may have affected the results of the US presidential election and Brexit referendum in 2016.

Staying Protected

On the bright side, the vast majority of those who took part in the poll agreed on the ways in which these threats should be tackled. It was agreed that there should be more transparency to social media, including the affiliation of those behind online ads. There should also be a right to reply for political candidates on social media. Finally, there should be a silence period on social media ahead of key votes, as with traditional media.

No Reason to Worry

Laurie Mercer, a security engineer at HackerOne, argued that British voters should not fear cyber-attacks. This is because, unlike in the US, the system is paper-based.

“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,” he added.

“During British elections, voters mark ballot papers with a pen in a voting booth in a polling station, which is 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.”

Social Media

DomainTools senior security advisor, Corin Imai believes disinformation on social media to be a real challenge.

“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 is safe,” she argued. “All Western democracies should be concerned by attempts to use cyber-attacks 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 cyber-attack, the integrity of our electoral process is just as, if not more critical to our way of life, and should also be considered critical.”

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