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Elections Canada website could be ‘vulnerable’ to cyberattack: RMC professor

WATCH: A new report, co-written by professors at the Royal Military College of Canada, lays out the risks of a cyber attack on the election and what can be done to protect the democratic process.

A new report, co-written by professors at the Royal Military College of Canada, lays out the risks of a cyberattack on the election and what can be done to protect the democratic process.

Attempts to interfere with elections have become a growing concern for countries around the world in recent years.

As the federal election is quickly approaching, cybersecurity has emerged as a key issue both at home and abroad.  A new report, ‘Defending Democracy: Confronting Cyber Threats to Canadian Elections’ written by Holly Ann Garnett, Christian Leuprecht, Michael Pal and Elizabeth Judge, covers the cyber threats that exist when it comes to election interference and how Canada can protect itself from attacks in the upcoming federal election.

READ MORE: Experts warn of disinformation during election but say political attack ads within legal limit

“There’s lots of different vulnerabilities that exist in the cyber sphere when it comes to elections,” said Holy Ann Garnett, an assistant professor in the department of political science at RMC.

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“So, with something like online registration, it can be very easy for somebody to take over that website.”

‘Naive’ to assume Canada not a target for election interference: Gould
‘Naive’ to assume Canada not a target for election interference: Gould

According to the report, risks include data corruption and the possibility of hackers gaining access to the voter’s registration website, which could compromise Canadian’s privacy and the election itself.

“We can easily see how Elections Canada’s website can be vulnerable to a direct attack, defacing the website, misinformation or bots can overwhelm it and deny service,” says Garnett.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor RCM’s political science department, believes governments and Canadian citizens need to be vigilant as cyber-attackers keep learning and adapting.

READ MORE: Capital One data breach hits about 6 million people in Canada, 100 million in U.S.

“This is really about resilience and awareness so that the public can get greater traction on what is happening and being able to distinguish manipulated messaging or understand how they themselves are vulnerable,” says Leuprecht.

The report concludes that Elections Canada has been slow to adopt new technologies into the electoral process. Sticking with paper ballots, it said, may be the right approach for now, as early adopters of election technologies have faced serious challenges in the past.

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