Johannesburg – The IEC has beefed up cybersecurity ahead of next week’s elections to avoid its system being hacked.
According to IEC Commissioner Dr Nomsa Masuku, the electoral organisation seeks to manage a potential election crisis similar to that experienced during the US election when Russia was accused of instituting a big social media campaign to meddle in the American polls or how Whatsapp was deemed to have influenced Nigeria’s election results.
Masuku said the IEC’s cybersecurity programmes were two-fold and involved the hacking of a system as well as social media.
"You can never have a full proof unhackable system. When you do that, the hackers come around and test it and they actually have money to do that. If this were to happen it would affect our results system," she said.
Masuku, who was speaking on the sidelines of a press briefing at the IEC’s ROC in Pretoria and the organisation’s state of readiness, highlighted that because South Africa still uses the paper ballot system, there were ways to mitigate against any disaster that may occur.
"During elections, we still speak about the paper receipt and that even in the worst case scenarios, if we were hacked, we would still be able to reconstruct the results because we are not yet using electronic voting. That is the positive side."
Speaking on the effects of social media, Masuku said: "You find that people put information on social media platforms in order to sway the outcomes of the elections. We have seen for example the allegations with the American elections, in France, Kenya, Brexit as well SADC where they talk of the Cambridge Analytica and the micro-targeting of voters. So what we have done in this country is to create a pilot for us to use platform where we can monitor our digital platforms all the time and pick up those messages that have the potential to disinform or misinform and investigate them."
Masuku said they had conducted up to 77 "takedowns" of sights they found to be non-compliant or could potentially cause a threat to their systems saying more would follow.
In April last year, Facebook founder CEO Mark Zuckerberg was hauled before Congress in the US where he had to account for the so-called "data bridge" impacting his firm. Nigerians were met with threats to shut down the internet during the polls while recently in Benin, west of Africa, internet access was restored at the end of the elections.
In South Africa’s case, Masuku said long before the IEC has set up its platforms, it engaged with all social media companies including Facebook and Twitter.
"We are doing this in partnership with them and Media Monitoring Africa. We are hoping to learn not just for South Africa or SADC alone but for the whole world becasue a lot of countries either have legislation or they shut down the social platforms. We don’t want to do that. In South Africa, I never foresee a situation where we shut down social media platforms because that would be in violation of the freedom of expression," she said.