Attacks went far beyond mischief

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Computer hacking has taken strides beyond instances of people with too much idle time. It’s looking like it has the potential to compromise the democratic process in a modern age.

Those participating in the NDP leadership convention on Saturday, or watching it on TV, were at first simply puzzled by the snowballing delays caused by the electronic voting.

Eventually, the speculation was outside tampering with the online system. Those suspicions are turning out to be well founded.

Scytl Canada, the Spain-based company that ran the online vote, is now describing the problem as an overload resulting from a professional, organized cyberattack.

That’s hugely disconcerting in a time when more and more business, transactions and decisions – including electoral procedures – are embracing the Internet.

Susan Crutchlow, general manager of Scytl Canada, described it as a “malicious, massive, orchestrated attempt to thwart democracy.” It involved more than 10,000 IP addresses contributing to the generation of hundreds of thousands of false voting requests, thereby jamming the system.

The attack delayed the decision making by several hours, but some who had been trying to vote believe their vote was stolen.

We can always expect mischief makers to toy with anything that’s a challenge. But when it’s an orchestrated attempt, obviously involving a lot of people, equipment and planning – well, what’s next? And what is safe from this kind of sabotage?

Without further investigation we won’t know whether it was plain maliciousness or a stunt by a political adversary to make the federal party look inept.

But the idea of bringing the voting process into the modern age has been gaining steam in recent years: allowing electronic methods as a way to get busy people politically engaged, along with the more technically savvy.

That’s still a praiseworthy goal, but it’s looking like much work on security is needed before we can head that way with confidence.

Organizations: Scytl Canada, NDP

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