Democratic Processes Under Threat 

The fairness of elections is extremely crucial in any democratic system. However, in the modern digital era, elections encounter new and significant difficulties due to cyber threats. These threats have the potential to undermine the fairness and credibility of the electoral process. On March 5, 2023, just before the general election, the official website of the world’s largest political party was down, with “maintenance mode” on display. Later on, India’s information technology minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad finally admitted that the site was hacked for a “few minutes.”

Nandkishore Harikumar, a cyber-security expert and CEO of Technisanct, told in a conversation with Newslaundry, an online publication, “It’s surprising that the website of such a tech-savvy party is harmed so badly that everything from static and dynamic content is wiped out and experts are unable to restore the normal functions of the site even after 10 days.”

In Austria, some political parties and the government’s big meeting place for making laws got hit by a data breach in February 2019. They were getting ready for elections in mid-May, and intelligence was checking if another country might be behind this hack, trying to mess with the vote or how people talk about stuff. Back in 2016, during the US elections, when there was a big data breach? They said Russian intelligence folks might’ve used sneaky emails and bad software to get into Hillary Clinton’s team’s emails and swipe voter info. It’s a pretty big deal when stuff like this happens.

India’s elections involve a huge number of voters and political parties, with around 800 million voters and close to 2,000 political parties participating. It’s an incredibly complex process to reach every single voter. Nowadays, technology isn’t just about connecting with voters. Big Data, a growing field, helps campaign managers collect information about each voter – their preferences, interests, and political views. This data comes from scanning people’s social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other online activities.

However, experts point out that most political groups aren’t too concerned about securing this data, mostly because they don’t know enough about it. The cost of setting up a firewall, a network device that protects against unauthorised access, is also a factor in this neglect of data security.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the Minister of State for Electronics and Information & Technology, provided the data to parliament that India witnessed 13.91 Lakh cyber security incidents in 2022. The number of documented cyberattacks decreased in 2022 compared to 2021, dropping from 1.402 million. According to government data, there were 208,000 incidents reported in 2018, 394,000 attacks recorded in 2019, and 1.158 million cybersecurity incidents reported to CERT-In in 2020.

As per ethical hackers’ insights, financial and telecom companies face significant risks due to their possession of extensive and valuable customer databases. Allegedly, there have been breaches in Aadhaar details in the past year, even compromising orders from the Supreme Court. A cyber expert stated that this signifies the rise of Espionage 2.0, posing a threat to the entire electoral process, including potential attacks on election machinery and data theft.

Despite all, the Election Commission of India has not reported any data hacking incidents by this time. Controversies often surround its electronic voting machines and voter lists. An official from the EC acknowledges that any website is exposed to hacking by skilled professionals. However, all voter and election data undergo offline collection, processing, approval, and storage. They are only uploaded to the website for public convenience, minimising the risk of system shutdown or data compromise.

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