Britain’s former top spy warns against internet voting

The former head of MI6 has warned against adopting electronic voting systems owing to fears about international cyber warfare.

Sir John Sawers told the BBC that casting a ballot with pencil and paper was “actually much more secure”.

He warned: “The more things that go online, the more susceptible you are to cyber attacks.” [BBC]

Pencils are even more secure if they are indelible, something which the Electoral Commission alas has rather messed up on.

The big difference, by the way, between online voting and online banking is secrecy. With online voting, no-one knows what the correct vote totals should be. With online banking, you do know (or can work out) what your correct bank balance should be. That makes it possible to detect problems, and then to undo the impact of those problems, in a way that is impossible when you don’t know what the outcome should be.

For example, a few years ago I made a large financial transfer and the money went astray in the banking system. But that wasn’t a problem in the end because everyone involved – me, the banks, the recipient – had other evidence to demonstrate what my balance and what the recipient’s balance should be. So there was never any real risk of the money ending up in the wrong place. But with voting you don’t know how many voters each candidate should have, so you can’t protect against an error or deliberate hack which wrongly allocates votes in the same way that the online banking system relies on every day.

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