When we talk about the integrity of elections, we tend to think about voter registration, transparency of donations, or the secrecy of our ballots. But on both sides of the Atlantic, the most disturbing new threat is the specter of cyberattacks against our campaign infrastructure. Whether in the wake of the U.K.’s EU referendum in June 2016, the U.S. presidential election that November, or the 2017 British general election, newspapers have been filled with endless speculation about foreign governments attempting to influence the outcome of elections. Unfortunately, much of the debate on the topic has become a partisan political tool used by both sides to make accusations against each other — creating chaos, just as cyberattacks are intended to do. What is deadly serious is the prospect of a malicious actor — who could be a foreign government, domestic extremist group or a single individual — acting to degrade the integrity of elections in the U.K.
In my country, the USA, technological advances of the last 20 years have led to a commensurate increase in the digital threat. When I first became involved in presidential campaigns in 2000, this never really crossed our minds.
As Mitt Romney’s campaign manager in 2012, I experienced cyberattacks firsthand when China tried to infiltrate our servers, forcing us to spend precious campaign resources on improved cybersecurity. Every cent we spent on protection could have been used addressing voters’ concerns, and that meant even unsuccessful cyberattacks ultimately weakened our campaign.