Computer Crime Research Center


Cybercrime and Politics: The Dangers of the Internet in Elections

Date: April 24, 2008
By: Markus Jakobsson

While we first saw the Internet used extensively during the 2004 U.S. presidential election, its use in future presidential elections will clearly overshadow those humble beginnings. It is important to understand the associated risks as political candidates increasingly turn to the Internet in an effort to more effectively communicate their positions, rally supporters, and seek to sway critics. These risks include, among others, the dissemination of misinformation, fraud, phishing, malicious code, and the invasion of privacy. Some of these attacks, including those involving the diversion of online campaign donations, have the potential to threaten voters' faith in the U.S. electoral system.

The analysis in this chapter focuses on the 2008 presidential election to demonstrate the risks involved, but our findings may just as well apply to any future election. Many of the same risks that we have grown accustomed to on the Internet can also manifest themselves when the Internet is expanded to the election process.

It is not difficult for one to conceive of numerous attacks that might present themselves and, to varying degrees, influence the election process. One need merely examine the attack vectors that already affect consumers and enterprises today to envision how they might be applied to this process. In this chapter, we have chosen to analyze those attack vectors that would be most likely to have an immediate and material effect on an election, affecting voters, candidates, or campaign officials.

A number of past studies have discussed a broad spectrum of election fraud possibilities, such as the casting of fraudulent votes [258] and the security, risks, and challenges of electronic voting [173]. There are many serious and important risks to consider related both to the security of the voting process and to the new breed of electronic voting machines that have been documented by others [46]. Risks include the ability for attackers or insiders either to manipulate these machines or to alter and tamper with the end results. These concerns apply not only to electronic voting in the United States, but have also been raised by other countries, such as the United Kingdom, which is also investigating and raising similar concerns surrounding electronic voting [274]. Rather than revisit the subject of electronic voting, the discussion here focuses exclusively on Internet-borne threats, including how they have the potential to influence the election process leading up to voting day.
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