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42% of non-voters would be more likely to vote if they could do so online

Wednesday, June 7th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

A significant number of people not planning on voting in the General Election would be more likely to take part if they could do so via the Internet

A poll by Cable.co.uk found that 42% of UK adults who are not planning to vote in the 8 June General Election would be more likely to cast their ballot if they could do so online.

Two years ago a commission set up by Commons Speaker John Bercow recommended that secure online voting be an option for all voters by 2020.

The Digital Democracy Commission said online voting “has the potential greatly to increase the convenience and accessibility of voting”.

It also accepted that security concerns including electoral fraud and secrecy of the ballot would have to be addressed.

Sam Gyimah, the then constitution minister, told the House of Commons in January 2015 that “moving to electronic voting would be a huge task for any government”.

Professor Tim Watson, director of the University of Warwick’s WMG Cyber Security Centre, said the risk to individual voters would be minimal.

He said the greater risks would be at a government level because of the large number of people that would be voting.

Prof Watson said that while the risk for a voter is “not significant”, hackers would be likely to target individual devices as they are the “soft end of the chain”.

'A tempting target'

“The chain starts with the device someone uses to vote and goes to a router before reaching an internet service provider (ISP) and eventually the government computer that is collecting the data,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“If there are a significant number of people voting from one location like a library or community centre, that could be a tempting target especially in a marginal seat.

“If a hacker finds a way into the system they could sit between the voter and the ISP and potentially change those votes.”

But, he said, “the government would be monitoring things all the time and could refer to historical trends and patterns of voting – and can monitor the effects of malware”.

Hackers could also disrupt an election taking place online by attempting to take down the power grid or by using a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

DDoS attacks use thousands of compromised computers to flood a website with traffic until it can no longer cope.

Prof Watson said such attacks can be prevented by monitoring spikes in traffic and routing rogue requests to alternative servers with very high bandwidth.

“The government has the resources to buy up enough bandwidth to hoover up the bad traffic,” he said.

A number of countries already use some form of electronic voting. Electronic voting machines are widely used in polling stations in India and Brazil but were banned in the Netherlands in 2007 because of security problems.

Estonia has been allowing its citizens to vote remotely over the internet for more than a decade and in the 2014 European Parliament elections nearly a third of those who voted did so online.

Prof Watson, who believes Estonia is the world leader in online voting, said it will also be “a good thing” for the UK.

“It’s the future, I think. All governments could learn from Estonia.”

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