There are many and varied cyberthreats afoot on the Internet, and the severity of their impact seemingly increases on a daily basis. But so far, their potential to provoke the collapse of democratized society in the Western world has been based on the possibility they could cause catastrophic failures in supply chains of goods and services.
Could a cyberthreat, one that is in many ways subtle and intangible, be the online agent that ends society as we know it?
According to Eugene Kaspersky, founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, one of the five biggest cyberthreats facing the world isn’t a nefarious worm or virus. It’s the lack of effective online voting systems.
"[T]he lack of well-established online voting systems is a real threat to democratic nations of the Western world," Kaspersky said in a recent interview with the BBC. He
stated that the generational divide between ever-more-digitized youth and their parents will increase to the point where "the whole democratic system could collapse" because "if there's no online voting system, these kids won't physically go anywhere to vote, they just won't, they'll refuse."
Ignoring the fact that the walk to the polling station would probably do them some good, is there really a need for the election of our governments and heads of state to be reduced to something akin to an X Factor episode to accommodate this apparent threat from the listless digital native?
There is common consensus among political scientists that election turnout in established democracies has been in general decline since the 1960s, most markedly in the US and more modestly in Europe. Globally, election turnout has dropped by about five percentage points over the last four decades.
When one considers the massive impact the Internet has made across all facets of society in the same period, it seems the current absence of a universally acceptable online voting system has not had a major impact on democracy, to date, at least.
The influences on voter turnout are infinite and unpredictable, from an apathetic malaise among a populace at large through to inclement weather.
Many people, when asked why they don’t vote, reportedly say that they don’t have the free time to do so. If true, this is somewhat ironic, given the negative impact on people’s lives that the “always-on” Internet culture is blamed for.
Beyond the human frailties of the voters themselves, it is highly questionable that technology and the Internet are either robust or cost-effective enough to provide an easy alternative for the voter.
Consider the following example: Estonia is generally recognized as the world leader in the use of Internet voting, having been the first country in the world to hold a binding election using the technology in 2005 and subsequently in four more local, parliamentary, and European elections. At the last parliamentary election in 2011, just over 24 percent of all those who voted in Estonia used the country’s I-voting system.
As successful as Estonia’s voting system may seem, however, it is reliant on the mandatory use of ID cards, which have to be smart cards. This requires individual card readers for voters and multiple PIN numbers, the distribution of which has to be authenticated before the voting process.
This may be a practical option if your entire electorate numbers around a million and doesn’t object to a national ID card system, but the cost implications alone in adopting such a setup for most of the established democracies are eye-watering.
Attempts by other countries to design and build alternative online voting systems have met with failure as a result of the more traditional cybersecurity threats that Kaspersky alludes to. Recall what happened when Washington, DC, introduced efforts to allow Internet voting for overseas voters. When invited to test it, security experts hacked the system within 48 hours. To prove their point, the hackers voted Futurama’s drunken robot Bender to head the District of Columbia’s school board.
Ultimately, the digital native’s disenchantment with voting is based less on a lack of suitable technology and more on disillusionment with the craven and anemic political choices they are presented with.
That’s a feeling that they can no doubt share with their parents.
— James Lambie is the Producer/Director of the online documentary series "Web Wide World" on Internet Evolution.