With more and more of our daily interactions and transactions taking place online, the face of crime is now evolving to present more of a threat in cyberspace. Cyber criminals are becoming increasingly adept at infiltrating private databases and accessing sensitive information, and the UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes that democracy could become the next victim of this booming business.
In a recent speech at Glasgow University, Mr Hunt predicted that overseas intervention in Western elections could have disastrous repercussions for the countries being targeted, with future governments potentially robbed of their legitimacy thanks to the efforts of cyber criminals. Even more concerningly, Mr Hunt attributed these actions not just to malicious individuals working independently, but hostile governments from rival countries around the world.
Mr Hunt warned that ongoing speculation about tampering with election results could undermine the very fabric of democracy. In a best-case scenario, cyber criminals could successfully erode public confidence in the democratic process to elect the chosen candidate of the people.
At the other end of the spectrum, they could actually influence the outcome of an election and subvert the purpose of democracy altogether.
In 2018, the UK government exposed a number of different attacks that were allegedly carried out by the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. The incidents disrupted organisations and services across a range of sectors, including WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency), Ukrainian public transport infrastructure and even a British TV channel.
They have also been accused of interfering in the 2016 US General Election. Other nation states, including China, Iran and North Korea, have also been implicated in cyber-criminal activities in the past.
Urgent action required
In his comments, Mr Hunt was quick to stress that online criminal activity had yet to influence British polls or elections – but that the government should take a proactive approach in preventing such a nightmare situation from coming to pass.
“We can no longer afford to wait until an authoritarian regime demonstrably succeeds in changing the outcome of an election and weakening trust in the integrity of democracy itself,” he said. “The risk is that after just a few cases, a pall of suspicion would descend over a democratic process – and once that happens, the damage would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to repair.”
Guarding against cyber attacks
While the sabotage of an election would represent a disastrous outcome for Western values and democratic practices, cyber-crime is a very real threat faced by businesses and organisations all over the world.
Magenta Network Security has provided cyber security services to the Ministry of Defence and Central Government along with a number of large businesses. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about how to safeguard your organisation against malicious attackers.