Cyber threats lurk as 65 nations head to the polls

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 08 Mar 2024
Gilchrist Mushwana, director and head of cyber security at BDO South Africa.
Gilchrist Mushwana, director and head of cyber security at BDO South Africa.

Widespread use of artificial intelligence has raised concerns among cyber security professionals and governments as a record 65 nations (15 from Africa) plan to hold elections this year.

One such professional, Gilchrist Mushwana, director and head of cyber security at BDO South Africa, says the rapid adoption of digital technologies, while driving innovation and efficiency across various sectors, also significantly expands the threat surface for cyber attacks.

“2024 is going to be a bumper year for elections across the globe. It is also predicted to be a bumper year for cyber crime as AI’s true power comes to the fore,” says Mushwana.

“The crossover between the two means that not only has the battleground for democracy shifted into the digital arena but the entire election process itself is under cyber threat.”

Mushwana says cyber crime poses a risk to election security in several ways, including misinformation on social media, AI-generated deep fakes, and automated disinformation. This includes AI algorithms amplifying false information, targeted ads to suppress voter turnout, and manipulating social media algorithms to boost certain political messages.

“Recent data indicates an expected surge in cyber crime costs, which are projected to grow by around $6 trillion US dollars over the next 4 to 5 years, supporting the surge in cyber attacks. Geopolitical tension also adds complexity to the weaponisation of cyber capabilities,” he says.

Keeping up with the attackers

Business leaders are concerned that the current state of AI technology may still favour attackers, allowing them to innovate faster than defences can keep up, he adds.

Lastly, the talent gap exacerbates the issue. Many organisations lack the necessary human capital to effectively counter the increasing number of cyber threats.

Mushwana suggests collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors to regulate and control disinformation spread. Regulation should target AI technologies and how tech companies handle misinformation. Additionally, investing in public awareness campaigns and digital literacy tools can help citizens identify fake content, including deepfakes.