In this report, AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH writes that unless necessary measures are taken, hackers might compromise the forthcoming general election by infiltrating INEC website.
Following the trend in global electoral contests in recent years, history won’t forgive our leaders and electoral umpire if they were not guided by the experience and incurably pretending that nothing shall happen to Nigerian electoral system next year.
According to a computer analyst, Affema Otaru, it would amount to saying the sun shall rise from the East tomorrow morning by saying attempts shall be made to hack next year’s election result in the country. There is no doubt about whether attempt shall be made to rig next year’s election by hacking into the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) system or critical infrastructure, witnessed severally even in some developed countries in the recent times. It should be expected that it may be worst in 2019 in Nigeria.
Even the unconfirmed report recently indicated that some politicians have entered in contracts with the notorious ‘Cambridge Analytica’, for their ‘political campaign management’ among its services. This is just as they are reaching out to other hacktivists (subversive users of computers and computer network to promote political agenda) in UK, Russia and others.
Political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica has been accused of using the personal data of millions of Facebook users to influence how people vote in many countries.
This is just as it is facing questions over whether it used personal data to sway the outcome of the US 2016 presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum.
But its reach extends well beyond the UK and US, with its website boasting of supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents.
Following a report early this year that a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, had told British lawmakers how an Israeli spy firm, ‘Black Cube,’ was “engaged to hack into Buhari accounts to get access to his medical records and private emails,” Federal Government in April this year began a probe into the revelation.
Many national dailies on April 2, 2018 reported that the government is also probing the report which suggested that the consulting firm that combines data mining, brokerage and analysis with strategic communications for electoral process manipulated Nigeria’s 2007 elections by organising campaigns to weaken the chances of opposition parties.
“The government of Nigeria is scrutinising the reports of the data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, which swiped the data of more than 50 million Facebook users to sway elections in many countries, including Nigeria, where it waged a campaign to perpetuate discord and hack into personal records of the then leading opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari,” the source said.
Cambridge Analytica had earlier been reported to have been hired by an unnamed Nigerian billionaire to support the re-election of former President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election in which the nod President Muhammadu Buhari was his main contender.
With the high level of desperation by politicians this time around, definitely, the option for use of computer to sway public opinion to themselves and compromise election results is rife. The question is, how prepared is INEC to combat this emerging global electoral hazards, since the fragile composition of this country may not afford an announcement of an unpopular candidate as winner of election witnessed in some countries recently.
In their 2018 book ‘’How To Rig an Election’’, Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas argue that “once upon a time, to do the dirty of changing votes, you had to be present in the actual polling location. That is no longer true.” According to them, “there is a much more direct way to rig elections with computer technology: hacking vital election infrastructure.”
In their 2017 study, “Making Democracy Harder to Hack”, published in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Scott Shackleford, Bruce Schneier et al point to three vulnerabilities that can be attacked to compromise an election: Voter rolls (who can vote), voting machines (who you vote for), and vote tabulation (how many votes each candidate received.
News broke out on March 28, 2015 that the INEC website was hacked by a group which called itself the ’Nigerian Cyber Army’. In a statement posted on INEC’s website- www.inecnigeria.org the group said it hacked and took control of the website to protect results from being manipulated by anyone, through any means. It also claimed to be protecting the rights of Nigerians to elect their leaders.
The hacking was confirmed by INEC on its Twitter handle, @inecnigeria “We are aware of the recent hack of our @inecnigeria website, we are currently investigating this incident #NigeriaDecides”.
While pre-empting the situation as well as making provision to tackle possible interference, Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on January 30, this year said that although 2019 election results shall be announced electronically, the physical copies of results of the elections would be given to party agents.
Yakubu, who disclosed this when he visited the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta, also called on telecoms service providers to assist the commission.
According to Yakubu, “INEC has developed the hardware and software. However, we rely on the operators for the transmission of both the figures and scanned images of result sheets. We wish to assure Nigerians that while we transmit the raw figures from polling units, scanned images of the result sheets will also be transmitted electronically in addition to physical copies given to party agents at polling units.”
This is just as the INEC boss appealed to the NCC as the regulator to facilitate a meeting between INEC and the telecommunications operators with the aim of assisting the electoral body in the conduct of the election.
The INEC boss added, “Similarly, we would like the NCC to facilitate discussions with operators on ways of enhancing their corporate social responsibility to Nigeria’s electoral process. An immediate area of interest to INEC is how the operators can help in voter education and publicity.
“Towards the 2019 general elections, we would like the operators in collaboration with INEC, to send bulk SMS and possibly voice messages as well on the imperative of peaceful elections, the collection of Permanent Voter Cards by registered voters and directional information on the location of polling units for easy access to voters.”
In his response, the Executive Vice-Chairman of the NCC said his agency would try to help the electoral body to ensure that the 2019 elections are free, fair and credible.
Dabatta said the NCC would try to improve the security of the communications system before the 2019 election so that it would be effective for the dissemination of election results.
While adopting the revised 2018 edition of the Nigerian Media Code of election coverage, by media stakeholders across the country on June 23, 2018, the INEC boss confirmed the electronic voting system will not be used in the 2019 general elections.
“There is no electronic balloting in 2019. In other words, there will be no electronic voting in the next general elections but technology is already being used in many aspects of the processes”, he said.
Besides, he said, “we cannot afford to have INEC or other FG site hacked at this sensitive time of electoral campaigns. ‘Imagine the impact of a fake report on INEC site saying election has been postponed indefinitely would have on the general public’’.
“As we now know, these same networks have also been used to undermine electoral campaigns by spewing falsehoods, and promoting fake news reports, not to mention widespread attacks on reputation aimed at public figures.
“A number of these attacks use computer threats such as bots or other form of malware, which could be mitigated with adequate security management protocols in place. Otherwise, what might appear to be the indication of a trend may actually be the manifestation of a group of attackers.
“There is urgent need for aggressive cybersecurity campaign and deployment of IT security solutions to all institutions not just INEC facilities with special trainings organized for the IT administrators and staff’’, Yakubu said.
While Nic Cheeseman and Brian Klaas had in their book “How to Rig an Election,” asked American and European leaders to take a more skeptical look at fraudulent elections and recognize the danger of endorsing rigged votes adding that sham elections are depressingly common.
Today, “more elections are being held, but more elections are also being rigged,” write Cheeseman, a professor at the University of Birmingham, and Klaas, a fellow at the London School of Economics (and a contributor to The Washington Post’s DemocracyPost blog). The authors warn that “counterfeit democrats” have figured out not only how to rig elections but also how to dupe Western observers and governments into accepting the outcome — and often emerge stronger.
The book details rigging strategies from the outrageous (disappearing ballot ink in Ukraine and three candidates with the same name on a St. Petersburg ballot) to the familiar (gerrymandering and voter suppression). In 23% of recent elections, violence, intimidation or harassment was found to have played a role; vote buying occurred in nearly 40 percent. The “smartest way” to rig, according to the authors, is to start early, “when observers are likely to be thin on the ground, and [questionable tactics] can be presented as technical or legal decisions as opposed to political skullduggery.
According to Wikipedia report, the Russian government allegedly interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in order to increase political instability in the United States and to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by bolstering the candidacies of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.
A January 2017 assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) stated that Russian leadership favored presidential candidate Trump over Clinton, and that Russian president Vladimir Putin personally ordered an “influence campaign” to harm Clinton’s chances and “undermine public faith in the US democratic process”
The U.S. intelligence community, in a joint January 6, 2017, declassified report, stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin wished to retaliate against Hillary Clinton due to faulting her for 2011–2012 mass protests against him. Putin repeatedly accused Clinton, who served as U.S. Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs.
Michael McFaul, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia, said that the operation could be a retaliation by Putin against Clinton. According to Russian security expert Andrei Soldatov, “The Kremlin] believes that with Clinton in the White House it will be almost impossible to lift sanctions against Russia. So it is a very important question for Putin personally. This is a question of national security
Pro-Russian hackers launched a series of cyberattacks over several days to disrupt the May 2014 Ukrainian presidential election, releasing hacked emails, attempting to alter vote tallies, and delaying the final result with distributed denial-of-service attacks.
On December 8, 2016, it was reported that Elections in Ghana was marred by attempt to hack Website and Calls for the President to concede The Electoral Commission of Ghana (ECG) had to call on voters to disregard a result being shared on social media showing that the opposition New Patriotic Party has scored over 54 per cent of votes cast from 80 per cent of the country’s polling stations.
In a statement posted on its Twitter handle, the ECG described the result as fake. The commission also stated that voting has been extended in Afram Plains South constituency and is still on-going in Jaman North constituency by December 9, 2016. “This is fake!!!! This is fake!!!! This is not from the EC. Disregard completely.
Yet, opposition presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo was eventually declared winner. The election commissioner Charlotte Osei said he received 53.8%, while the then sitting President John Dramani Mahama scored 44%.
Already, people from some quarters are saying the next year election is as good as being rigged with President Muhammadu Buhari’s declined assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018. INEC should not only be mindful of putting in place Critical Infrastructure Protection, but it needs to begin to build up confidence or voting integrity, combating fake news and installing robust instrument for information warfare.
The Federal Government must begin to build resilience in democratic institutions, building some measures and critical infrastructure, applying new technologies, risk-limiting audit and comparative approaches to establish an election security law.