How to Secure Future ElectionsSecurity Experts Assess Key Steps to Take
As the Lok Sabha elections continue across all regions in India, security experts are sizing up what steps the nation can take to make future elections more secure.
For example, some are calling on the government to take bold action to help stop the flow of fake news on social media. Others suggest that newer technologies, such as blockchain, could play a role in improving election security. And some suggest that a "security by design" approach to election technology could play an important role.
"The Digital India Initiative has created a new wave of transformation across the country, and this is increasingly visible during the election. There is every chance of leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain," says Saryu Nayyar, CEO at Gurucul, a security analytics firm.
Impact of Social Media
One of the biggest threats facing elections today is the spread of fake news designed to influence the results, says Balaji Venkateshwar former director for cybersecurity capabilities at Qualcomm. "While government and the election commission may be turning a blind eye to the social media malice and interference of foreign nations through the social media platform in influencing the electoral process and citizens, it is a fact the hackers are masking the IP addresses and stealing credentials of voters to spread fake news from their handles in order to make them look credible", Venkateshwar says.
K. K. Mookhey, CEO of NII Consulting, notes: "While the news that appears on public platforms like Facebook or Twitter can still be monitored, the real challenge is in the case of WhatsApp and now TikTok, which are being used extensively in influencing the citizens in election time. I am not sure such platforms can even be policed, especially when the political parties themselves heavily indulge in spreading fake news to promote their own interests."
Cyber lawyer Karnika Seth argues that the nation needs to enact new policies aimed at cracking down on fake news.
"Just giving out guidelines will not solve the problem," he says. "The election commissioner has the power to come out with a firm policy. This will definitely have more credibility and power."
Pavan Duggal, advocate at the Supreme Court of India, says the current Information Technology Act does not adequately deal with social media issues, so new legislation is needed.
Role of Blockchain
Some security experts argue that the use of blockchain also could help guard against efforts to rig an election.
For example, by creating an immutable record of their votes and identities, blockchain could help prevent citizens from voting twice. "This way people out in charge of counting votes would have a final record which can be audited or verified later at any time," Mookhey says.
Several technology experts have suggested using blockchain technologies in electronic voting machines, according to a blog on Indianweb2.com.
"One of the most commonly suggested technologies by tech experts in India that can solve the EVM tampering debates all at once is blockchain," the blog states. "Experts are confident that the blockchain's attributes of transparency, immutability and trust can work wonders for the EVM system and put an end to issues like vote manipulation/tampering in the country's famous democratic process of elections."
Preparing for a Secure Future
The Indian government seems more aware of potential cyberthreats to election integrity, some security experts say.
"Rather than going for retrofit solutions leading to suboptimal outcomes ... we can see security being included at the RFP stage itself," says Deepak Maheshwari, director - government affairs in India for Symantec. For example, a smart city project in Goa has defined a "cybersecurity framework" in the design phase.
Maheshwari adds: "Even the India Enterprise Architecture has adopted a 'security by design' approach, which factors in cybersecurity - and as an extension, data protection - right at the design stage. This has been budgeted for adequately rather than as an after-thought."
Practitioners say the government should now apply a similar approach to election security.
"We can bring in the systems and agencies related to elections under the national critical information infrastructure protection center," says Latha Reddy, India's former deputy national adviser.