A cyber attack aimed at influencing the outcome of the UK General Election is highly likely, a leading cyber security expert from Northern Ireland has warned.
Londonderry man Robert O’Brien, CEO of security software firm MetaCompliance, said the threat was rightly being taken extremely seriously by the intelligence services.
“Social engineering has already had a profound effect on elections internationally leaving little doubt that hackers will target Britain in the coming days and weeks,” he said.
“We already know that British Members of Parliament have been warned by the National Cyber Security Centre of attempts to obtain personal information from MPs by suspected hackers,” he added.
The National Cyber Security Centre warning advised MPs and their staff to be cautious about phishing e-mails asking for personal information such as account IDs or passwords.
Mr O’Brien explained: “This is one way in for hackers - it’s a way to gain access to information that can then be used to shape public opinion.
“The capability to access information that in turn becomes the basis for disinformation and attempts to influence the electorate's decision making is an obvious lure.
“It’s this kind of access that can allow for the spread of speculation, rumour and fake news.
“It allows the hackers to socially engineer the electorate. That is their aim and we’ve seen it in the course of recent elections in the US and France.”
Mr O’Brien said there was a real risk to election results being compromised.
“A massive and coordinated attack - similar to that during the French elections - should be seen as highly likely, not just in the here and now, but in subsequent elections across the globe,” he said.
In September Germany will also go to the polls.
Mr O’Brien added: “Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the BfV, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, has also already voiced serious concerns.
“We already know large amounts of data have been seized by hackers during an attack on the Bundestag back in 2015.
“Both here in the UK and in Germany there is real concern that factual information stolen during cyber attacks could be used to discredit politicians or influence the elections.
“It’s only right that MPs and their staff are being advised to take steps such as enabling several authentication methods, validating device logins, terminating sessions, forwarding suspicious e-mails to the authorities and educating followers about phishing attempts.”