General elections to be threatened by the rise in AI

The National Cyber Security Centre's annual review of cyber security issues highlighted the growing threat of deepfakes and other forms of disinformation

The past ten years have seen a remarkable rise in the adoption of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), as businesses recognise the transformative potential of these technologies in streamlining operations and achieving better product and service quality.

After the first-ever AI Safety Summit held at Bletchley Park, global leaders, tech executives, academics, and civil society figures discussed at length the potential that AI has to assist cybercriminals in carrying out malicious and sophisticated cyber attacks.

However, the UK's cyber security agency has once again raised concerns that AI and state-backed hacking groups now pose a growing threat with the potential to undermine the upcoming general election.

In its ‘NCSC Annual Review 2023’ report, the National Cyber Security Centre, which is a part of GCHQ, cautioned against the growing sophistication of deepfakes and other forms of disinformation intended to sway voter opinion.

How could AI impact elections?

The report states: “While the UK’s use of paper voting in General Elections makes it significantly harder to interfere with our elections, the next election will be the first to take place against the backdrop of significant advances in AI. But rather than presenting entirely new risks, it is AI’s ability to enable existing techniques which poses the biggest threat.”

For example, large language models (LLMs), the underlying technology behind applications like ChatGPT, are expected to be exploited for malicious purposes, specifically to create fake content and manipulate public opinion in a bid to undermine democratic processes.

"Any interference or attempts to undermine our political discourse are completely unacceptable and the UK government is committed to enhancing our capabilities and countering the threat from online harms, such as disinformation," the NCSC report says.

The NCSC has urged the UK government and political parties to take proactive measures to mitigate the risks posed by AI, such as implementing stricter regulations on online advertising, enhancing public awareness of AI-generated disinformation, and strengthening cybersecurity measures.

Collective action is required

The report described how the threat landscape had evolved significantly since the UK’s last general election in 2019, in particular in the wake of Russia's war with Ukraine. This conflict "has made the prospect of influencing the political discourse in democracies ever more attractive to state actors", the report states. Additionally, the agency identified China, Iran, and North Korea as persistent cyber threats alongside Russia.

The report also warned about the emergence of cyber actors that are aligned with malign states such as Russia and share the same ideological goals but can act with less restraint, calling this category "a new class of adversary for the UK to counter".

To work towards countering these threats, the UK has established the Defending Democracy Taskforce and the Joint Election Security Preparedness unit.

NCSC Chief Executive Lindy Cameron explains: “As our annual review shows, the NCSC and our partners have supported government, the public and private sector, citizens, and organisations of all sizes across the UK to raise awareness of the cyber threats and improve our collective resilience.

“Beyond the present challenges, we are very aware of the threats on the horizon, including rapid advancements in tech and the growing market for cyber capabilities. We are committed to facing those head-on and keeping the UK at the forefront of cyber security.”

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Other magazines that may be of interest - Technology Magazine | Cyber Magazine.

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