What Is the Government's Plan?
With the elections coming up, delivering better cybersecurity responses is a top priority for the Australian government. After the many cyber attacks that have occurred over the past few years, the Australian government is understandably concerned about possible IT security breaches during the May 18 polls.
Data as a Weapon
Around the world, hackers—allegedly state actors—gain access to government computer systems and weaponise data to influence election results. Australia is particularly vulnerable to this form of cyber terrorism.
Special Task Force to Guard Against the Possibility of Cyber Attack
According to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM), one way to protect the Australia election system against the risk of a cyber attack is to create a special task force. This proposal was one of the 31 recommendations outlined in “Report on the Conduct of the 2016 Federal Election and Matters Related Thereto,” which was presented by the JSCEM to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).
The special task force will focus on “systemic privacy breaches.” According to the JSCEM, the task force will “prevent and combat cyber manipulation in Australia’s democratic processes,” as well as “provide transparent, post-election findings regarding any pertinent incidents.” The JSCEM is also pushing for all political parties to work together to guard against hacking and have a safer network operating the country’s legislature.
A Cyber Attack on Democracy
Another concern that the JSCEM raised is the risk of foreign powers meddling with voters through the use of social media and social engineering. Taking advantage of the low levels of media literacy in Australia, hackers can rapidly spread disinformation. Their divisive political ads and content can weaken Australians’ trust in democratic processes, the government, and election results.
Free, fair, and credible elections are highly important to Australian democracy. They establish the legitimacy of those elected and engender trust in the newly elected Parliament members. However, a hacked electoral system can result in a compromised election with little credibility.
A concentrated social media cyber attack can also sway would-be voters away from the polling booths that’s why protecting against it is critical. While Australian voters’ participation rate is among the highest in the world, electoral turnout is dropping. The turnout in 2016 was the lowest recorded since the 1925 election.
To address these issues, the JSCEM recommends “that the Australian Government bring greater clarity to the legal framework surrounding social media services and their designation as ‘platform’ or ‘publisher’.”
Electronic Voting Deemed Too Risky
Many Australians would prefer to have the convenience of being able to vote electronically, but it seems like it won’t be rolled out for the upcoming elections—or any time soon. The JSCEM recognises the convenience of electronic voting but stands by its ground—the country isn’t ready for it due to security concerns.
Dr. Vanessa Teague, an associate professor and cryptographer whose main research interest is electronic voting, provided further insight via her submission to the report.
“It is actually really hard to do a good job of scrutinising a computer because a computer can print up on the screen a very comforting message saying that it has helpfully recorded the vote that you asked it to, but in fact, the actual internals of what the computer is doing could be wrong. There could be an accidental configuration error or a software bug, or there could be a deliberate attempt at fraud from either the outside or the inside. So it is a real engineering challenge to design a system that allows verifiable evidence of the right election outcome if the election involves significant use of computers.”
The Final Word
As evidenced by the Parliament House breach early this year, a cyber attack can do an incredible amount of damage. It can lessen the credibility of an election, diminish trust in the government, and ultimately put Australian democracy in jeopardy. Cyberattacks are on the rise in the private sector as well as in the government. If you own a business, cyber security should be as much of a priority with you as it is with the Australian government. Prevent a cyber attack from damaging your business, it’s best to have your own special task force—an IT team that can assess the security of your network and provide actionable recommendations to improve it.
Contact us today to learn more about IT solutions and network security.
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