Cybersecurity warning for South Africa’s elections

Mimecast VP of sales engineering for the EMEA region Brian Pinnock believes Africa could become a target for cyberattacks in the political space, particularly during elections.

During an interview with eNCA, Pinnock was asked whether we could see politically motivated cyberattacks in Africa similar to incidents in the United States and Russia.

“We’re saying exactly that. 2024 is kind of being billed as the ultimate election year. We’ve got around 60 countries, or about half the world’s population, casting their votes or having already cast their votes,” he responded.

“Digital is a critical part of campaigning, and unfortunately, it leaves a situation that’s really ripe for misinformation and disinformation, but also for things like cyberattacks.”

He explained that insufficient cybersecurity measures aren’t the primary concern, but rather people targeted by phishing attacks and those spreading misinformation.

As a result, potential cybersecurity threats could compromise the data of private and public organisations during the electoral process.

The Communication Risk Information Centre (Comric) has also stressed the importance of robust telecommunications security as we approach the South African national elections on Wednesday, 29 May 2024.

Comric CEO Thokozani Mvelase said telecommunications infrastructure is crucial in ensuring seamless communication among voters, electoral bodies, and all stakeholders involved in the electoral process.

“Although the specifics of the IEC’s telecom partnerships are not currently disclosed, our broader mandate ensures that every citizen has access to safe and uninterrupted communication capabilities, which are enabled by secure infrastructure,” he said.

“The primary risk is the potential for interference in the electoral process, which could manifest in various forms such as data breaches, system hacks, and the dissemination of misinformation.”

“Such disruptions can undermine public trust in the electoral outcomes and, by extension, the democratic process itself.”

Thokozani Mvelase, Comric CEO

He added that the spread of misinformation can significantly affect voter perception and decision-making, which could threaten the fairness of elections.

Mvelase explained that another risk relates to networks’ vulnerability to targeted attacks, which could paralyse communication channels when most needed.

“It is imperative that our communications infrastructure is not only operational but also fortified against any form of disruption,” he said.

“This resilience is essential for the continuity of communication during the elections, ensuring that every citizen can receive and impart information freely and without interference.”

Aside from data breaches, Comric said disruptive attacks could result in delayed or incorrect transmission of electoral data, which could hinder the accurate reporting and verification of results.

It added that ensuring the physical security of telecommunications equipment and infrastructure is crucial.

“In periods of heightened political activity, such as elections, the risk of sabotage increases,” Comric said.

“Protecting this infrastructure is paramount to avoid any disruptions that could affect the accessibility and reliability of communication services, which are crucial for the conduct of transparent and fair elections.”

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Cybersecurity warning for South Africa’s elections