• Charges countries to computerize elections on shortcomings
• Claims America learned the lessons very late
A professor, Matt Blaze, has warned that the greatest threat to any election, whether in America, Europe or Africa, remains the twin challenges of misinformation and disinformation.
Blaze, professor of computer science and law at Georgetown University in the United States of America, said all other challenges, including cyberattacks, follow sequentially.
The professor spoke this weekend on “cybersecurity in the context of elections” during the virtual cybersecurity reporting tour, organized by the foreign press centers of the United States, on the theme: “A responsibility Shared: Prioritizing Public-Private Partnerships in Cybersecurity”.
He said phishing, malware and ransomware are potential threats to any electoral process, “but in reality the biggest of them has been misinformation and disinformation.
“It is about the existence of a threat used by a malicious party to cast doubt on the outcome of an election. It’s one of the hardest things to deal with for those who aren’t steeped in technology.
Blaze said there are vulnerabilities even in computerized elections, “but the fact that there is a vulnerability is not in itself proof that the vulnerability has been exploited. And in fact, most likely, it didn’t. Just like we know there are all kinds of ways to hurt a person, yet we are all still alive. We know you could choke me or shoot me, but that doesn’t mean I was strangled or shot. This is also true of computer technology.
“So one of the really important things to keep in mind is that while there are vulnerabilities in some parts of the system, we should always be skeptical of claims that those vulnerabilities have been exploited and that the election result is illegitimate.”
Regarding cyber threats to e-voting, Blaze said he was comforted when he saw countries that do not rely on the unnecessary use of computers because computer technology is inherently unreliable.
He said, however, that elections and the use of cybertechnology are not limited to simple voting and vote counting.
Blaze, who said that without modern information technology, the logistical challenges of elections would be difficult to solve, urged any country considering computerizing its electoral infrastructure to carefully consider the risks associated with it and to take serious the threat that the infrastructure could be tampered with or misinformation about the infrastructure could spread in a way that would lead to a loss of confidence in the elections.
He said: “Techniques, like using paper ballots, possibly digitized and counted by computer, but with a reliable artefact of the voter’s choices; then a statistically rigorous risk mitigation audit performed after the IT count, may enable the use of certain IT technologies to make elections more efficient, but still gives you confidence that the result is correctly reported if that equipment has been tampered with or was lacking in her.
“So I particularly urge countries trying to modernize their electoral systems to proceed with extreme caution. Don’t make some of the mistakes the US has made in deploying these systems before thinking about safeguards. »
Blaze, who said elections and their integrity are of fundamental importance to the legitimacy of democracy, noted that there are risks in limiting audits based on paper ballots, which are essential to ensure that the election result is reported correctly and also to be able to refute spurious allegations. by a losing candidate unhappy that the election was stolen from him.
Speaking on the 2016 US election, the Georgetown professor said the US had largely misunderstood the extent of the threat to the election, largely focusing on local threats, especially people trying to run for mayor.
He explained: “I think one of the things we saw in 2016 is that it hugely underestimates the sophistication of the kinds of attackers we see in elections of international concern. In fact, it’s not just potentially dishonest candidates and their supporters that we need to be concerned about, but two other things.
“The first are foreign actors who might try to alter the outcome of an election or an intelligence agency of foreign governments.
“Or potentially foreign actors, whose interest is to undermine the perceived legitimacy of the elections. In fact, we saw it in the 2020 election. We found ourselves in a situation in the United States where a significant minority of Americans do not know who won the election. This is largely due, not to a substantial flaw in the election itself, but to a large-scale disinformation campaign questioning the integrity of the election.
“What we have learned is that simply securing an election against a dishonest candidate is only a small part of the problems of maintaining electoral integrity in a democracy. Maybe other countries, besides the United States, learned about it before us.