Cyber attackers targeted half the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that held national elections in 2018, the agency that monitors Canada’s telecoms networks said Monday.
“The proportion of elections targeted by cyber threat activity has more than tripled” since 2015, said the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE), which warned of a further spike this year.
“A small number of nation-states have undertaken most cyber threat activity against democratic processes worldwide,” the center said, mostly pointing the finger at Russia.
The OECD is a grouping of 36 of the world’s richest nations that describe themselves as committed to democracy and the free market, founded in 1961 to promote trade.
The report said voters were now the target of cyber activity rather than political parties, candidates or their staff, accounting for more than half of global activity in 2018.
“This shift seems to have started in 2016, which is likely due in part to the perceived success among cyber threat actors of Russia’s cyber interference activity against the 2016 United States presidential election,” the report said.
The goals of the cyber attackers was to “manipulate online information… in order to influence voters’ opinions and behaviors,” the report said.
Foreign interference also aimed in the longer term to “promote foreign economic, ideological, military interests” and to “reduce confidence in democracy [and] create divisions in international alliances.”
In Canada, where a general election is due in October, the CSE said it was “very likely” that voters would encounter foreign cyber interference, although not on the scale of Russian meddling in the US.
The cyber interference would not be able to target the election itself, which is largely done using paper ballots at the federal level, it said.
But the report added that foreign state-sponsored media had “disparaged Canadian cabinet ministers.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week warned of the risk of Russian meddling in the elections.
His minister for democratic institutions, Karina Gould, said Monday she had discussed the issue with the largest social media organizations, but said they were doing too little to address the threat.
“There is a lot left to be desired in terms of how seriously they’re taking these issues,” she said, although she did note that Facebook had been more cooperative than others.
Facebook said it was banning Faith Goldy, a prominent commentator who has been described as a white nationalist, as well as other far-right activists. The ban also applies to Instagram, which Facebook owns.
“Individuals and organizations who spread hate, attack, or call for the exclusion of others on the basis of who they are, have no place on our services,” a Facebook spokesperson told HuffPost.