Talks@Algebra with Scott J. Shackelford: “Technology is just not quite there yet for e-voting to be widespread”

“There is a wide variety of cyberattacks that are used to impact elections and, even more broadly, to shape our democracies,” claims our recent guest speaker at our Talks @ Algebra series of events, Scott J. Shackelford. Mr. Shackelford is an associate professor of business law and ethics from Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, and is also a lecturer of management of information risk and security at our MBA course.

We spoke with him after his recent talk, titled “Making Democracy Harder to Hack”, on the very same day when the world was once again reminded of the real risks related to weak cyber security, as we watched a widespread ransomware attack bringing large, complex, and sometimes even mission-critical networks to their knees. While hackers are clearly capable of bringing down hundreds of thousands of systems in one afternoon, we have also seen recent examples where information leaks and hacks have impacted – or at least tried to impact – elections in the US, Germany, France, and several other countries.

“In the US, what we have really seen last year with the Democratic National Convention hack is foreign interference in shaping voters’ perceptions. There were lots of information leaks, and fake information was also posted. But we have also seen various other cyberattacks impacting other elections, and this actually goes a long way back, even back to South Africa in 1994,” said Shackelford.

The real challenge, says Shackelford, is that there is not just a single vulnerability to be fixed, in order to make democracy harder to hack, but a wide range of issues: from voting machines and poll books, to the dissemination of fake news, there are lots of vulnerabilities to be aware of when we are discussing threats to the democratic processes.

On a more positive note, Shackelford believes that businesses are beginning to take cybersecurity more seriously, following several high-profile, global hacks and information leaks in recent years. “Businesses are making investments, they are hiring chief privacy officers, chief information security officers, and are investing a lot more in this area,” said our MBA lecturer.

We were curious to hear whether some new technologies might be implemented to make the voting processes around the world more secure and to find out what the reasons are that e-voting had not spread more widely yet.

“The problem is, unfortunately, that the technology is not quite there yet, even though there are ideas to use some other new technologies like blockchain, which is the foundation for Bitcoin. But, I believe it is tough to make that technology scale, and if the point is in improving trust and building support among the general population, it is tough to educate people on something as complicated as blockchain,” said Shackelford in our interview.

Do listen to the full interview in our video below, where Shackelford also addresses some other common threats that democracies face when dealing with cyber threats.