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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Russian hacking: Holland goes old school


That’s the Dutch government’s approach to dealing with the fear of Russian election hacking.
The tech-savvy country scaled back the use of computers to count votes and opted for an all-paper, all-manual election this month.

It is one of the more drastic responses to a threat that France and Germany, which also hold elections this year, have also started to grapple with.

The Dutch government has known about some of the vulnerabilities in the voting software since 2006 and banned electronic voting in 2007, but has been publicly — and frequently — reminded ever since by academics and hackers of vulnerabilities in the software used to count the votes.

A decade later, the country still hasn’t come up with a secure tech system to cast and count votes.
It was only after the U.S. blamed Russia for hacking during the presidential election cycle last year that the Netherlands announced it was dropping computers entirely.


The country’s almost 13 million voters will line up March 15 at more than 9,000 polling stations to tick the box for their candidate with pencils, and these votes will be counted by hand. It’s unclear how long it will take officials to get it done.
‘Haunting the election’

“I don’t want a shadow of doubt over the result in a political climate like the one we know today,” Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said. “I can imagine some party or professor somewhere will say there is a remaining risk that it was hacked.

“And that would keep haunting the election outcome.”

Today, the distrust has spread to anything electronic in the election process.
Dutch officials fear Russian meddling following years of tensions with Moscow.

The countries have sparred diplomatically over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines civilian airplane in 2014 by a surface-to-air missile, allegedly launched by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine, that killed 298 people, most of them Dutch.

Some Dutch officials saw a Russian hand in last year’s referendum on an EU treaty with Ukraine, which voters here rejected.

France, which holds elections in the spring, is also on guard. Both countries have Russia-friendly contenders on the ballot who want to sever ties with the European Union, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France.

Dutch officials say the threat extends beyond voting: Politicians’ computers could be hacked and fake news could infiltrate media and blogs, they say.

In early February, Rob Bertholee, head of Dutch intelligence agency AIVD, said his services had identified hundreds of attacks by Russia targeting government systems that were intended to steal confidential documents.

“We’re talking about reports at the heart of government,” he said, adding that “it is a race to stay on top of things.”

The warnings aren’t sinking in as quickly as those issuing them would like.
Dutch politicians, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte (center) filling in an online voting guide for the Dutch elections

In January, members of the Hague Security Delta — a cluster of businesses and governments — offered free IT support and education for politicians and the government.

The response was near silence. One security firm, RedSocks Security, said only one MP turned up for a short introduction session to cybersecurity. Digital Infrastructure Association, an association of cloud, data storage and network companies, extended a similar offer and also generated little interest.

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