NewsState-backed cyberattacks, AI deepfakes, and more: Experts reveal UK election cyber threats

State-backed cyberattacks, AI deepfakes, and more: Experts reveal UK election cyber threats

Disinformation is expected to be among the top cyber risks for elections in 2024.

Andrew Brookes | Image Source | Getty Images

Britain is expected to face a barrage of state-backed cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns as it heads to the polls in 2024 — and artificial intelligence is a key risk, according to cyber experts who spoke to CNBC. 

Brits will vote on May 2 in local elections, and a general election is expected in the second half of this year, although British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has not yet committed to a date.

The votes come as the country faces a range of problems including a cost-of-living crisis and stark divisions over immigration and asylum.

“With most U.K. citizens voting at polling stations on the day of the election, I expect the majority of cybersecurity risks to emerge in the months leading up to the day itself,” Todd McKinnon, CEO of identity security firm Okta, told CNBC via email. 

It wouldn’t be the first time.

In 2016, the U.S. presidential election and U.K. Brexit vote were both found to have been disrupted by disinformation shared on social media platforms, allegedly by Russian state-affiliated groups, although Moscow denies these claims.

State actors have since made routine attacks in various countries to manipulate the outcome of elections, according to cyber experts. 

Meanwhile, last week, the U.K. alleged that Chinese state-affiliated hacking group APT 31 attempted to access U.K. lawmakers’ email accounts, but said such attempts were unsuccessful. London imposed sanctions on Chinese individuals and a technology firm in Wuhan believed to be a front for APT 31.

The U.S., Australia and New Zealand followed with their own sanctions. China denied allegations of state-sponsored hacking, calling them “groundless.”

Cybercriminals utilizing AI 

Cybersecurity experts expect malicious actors to interfere in the upcoming elections in several ways — not least through disinformation, which is expected to be even worse this year due to the widespread use of artificial intelligence. 

Synthetic images, videos and audio generated using computer graphics, simulation methods and AI — commonly referred to as “deepfakes” — will be a common occurrence as it becomes easier for people to create them, say experts.  

State-backed cyber attacks are on the rise this year: DXC Technology

“Nation-state actors and cybercriminals are likely to utilize AI-powered identity-based attacks like phishing, social engineering, ransomware, and supply chain compromises to target politicians, campaign staff, and election-related institutions,” Okta’s McKinnon added.  

“We’re also sure to see an influx of AI and bot-driven content generated by threat actors to push out misinformation at an even greater scale than we’ve seen in previous election cycles.”

The cybersecurity community has called for heightened awareness of this type of AI-generated misinformation, as well as international cooperation to mitigate the risk of such malicious activity. 

Top election risk

Adam Meyers, head of counter adversary operations at cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike,

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