Cyber Threats To The British Elections

Voters in England, Scotalnd Wales and Northern Ireland go to the polls on July 4th. The British national government  has a plurality voting system - meaning that the candidate that wins the most votes gets the Westminster Parliament seat.

That tends to benefit establishment parties like the Conservative and Labour parties, which have “heartlands” and a floor of support that prevents smaller parties from winning seats. The system also benefits parties which do not have nationwide appeal, but has historically had concentrated support in specific areas like Scotland and Wales. 

This could incentivise threat actors to target elections where multiple parties are running candidates or the election is particularly close, because influencing even a small group of voters could change the outcome.

Threat actors could seek to exacerbate domestic UK political divisions regarding the primary electoral issues and this means the election faces high risks from social media based fake information campaigns.Although not likely to directly disrupt voting, these campaigns push geopolitical propaganda and disinformation that are likely to influence opinion. 

As part of this, threat actors are expected to leverage GenAI to create more effective and persuasive content, including highly realistic synthetically-generated images and deepfakes of politicians to discredit and undermine opposition candidates. 

Lewis Shields, Director of Dark Ops at ZeroFox commented “Nation state actors have long been known to interfere in major global events, and while unlikely to conduct election interference, nefarious actors may seek to influence the outcome of the UK election. Illicitly-obtained personal information of UK citizens is unlikely to be leveraged to influence the results of the election, but access to sensitive communications between political figures and policy decisions could be of significant value to adversarial nation-state entities..."

"As such, organisations must safeguard classified, sensitive, or business-critical assets using secure, off-site backup methods, compartmentalisation, and authentication mechanisms." Shields said. 

Mike Kiser, Director of Strategy and Standards at SailPoint said “Meaningfully affecting the outcome of an election might not always be an attacker’s goal. Simply disrupting or derailing voting systems can cause voters to lose faith in the electoral process, which can be destabilising enough... Using voting machines that prioritise manufacturers that use open-source software, which can be publicly verified as safe and secure. Physical security is also a top priority – having observers in place at the ballot box and other critical areas can go a long way towards making voters feel more secure..."
 
“With the rise of misinformation and deepfakes, exercising caution and fact checking sources is also crucial.” Kiser said.

Only by increasing awareness and collaboration between government employees, cyber security experts, and the public, whilst having robust security protocols in place, can  the integrity of the  democratic electoral processes be upheld. 

Image: mounsey

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