Cybersecurity: as the elections approach, prevention is better than cure

Guillaume Poupard, director of the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (ANSSI) places the elections as a major risk of cyberattacks. From presidential, senatorial, through municipal, the opportunities are multiple for cybercriminals; As recently indicated in an interview, the former forger and FBI consultant, Franck Abagnale Junior, with the internet, cybercrime is today without borders. Building on the experience of the 2016-2017 elections targeted by many hackers and faced with the risk of this continuing, States must more than ever be extra vigilant.

The security of an election is also the security of democracy, so it is important for local authorities to guard against risks by adopting good practices at critical times.

As the American presidential elections approach, on November 3, ANSSI’s warnings are more than ever to be taken seriously and can serve as a reminder for those to come in France in order to anticipate potential threats. While disinformation campaigns receive much security attention during election time, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) can hamper information availability. This situation can be just as dangerous, if not more so. There are two times when the availability of information is essential and during which an attack could undermine the election: the online registration of voters on the lists and the publication of the election results.

According to the Center for Internet Security (CSI) handbook on electoral infrastructure security, the ability to access voter registration systems over the Internet has increased their vulnerability to remote attacks designed to manipulate these systems. Nation-states, for example, could access and compromise voter registration databases in order to prevent legitimately registered voters from voting on election day – a practice that has otherwise already happened. In France, electoral lists are now digital and closely monitored. This is to prevent the election from being discredited by attacks that would remove names or prevent the lists from printing correctly. Controlling this type of threat is an absolute priority to strengthen the resilience of these components in terms of security.

The publication of election results on election night is also a matter of concern. This is the reason why Google wanted to protect the candidates of the last European Parliament elections against these potential threats, by giving political parties access to a package preventing the shutdown of a website following an attack. DDoS. However, cybercriminals could go even further, for example by obtaining access to systems for publishing votes on election night, in order to modify the results displayed; they could thus make the real winner of the election the loser and thus undermine the confidence of the voters.

Administrators must therefore define a mitigation strategy for DDoS attacks prior to elections in order to ensure their protection. To do this, it is important that they assess the distributed denial of service attack landscape of electoral infrastructure and develop an emergency mitigation plan. Establishing long-term partnerships with a network service provider and a DDoS prevention specialist will also help strengthen election security.

The protection of democracy begins with the protection of elections. The motivations for such attacks can be diverse, but states must assume that elections will be victims of cyber attacks, so as not to be taken by surprise. It is therefore more essential than ever that they anticipate threats in order to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and thus protect the voice of citizens.

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