Advances in artificial intelligence pose a growing threat to the integrity of the next general election in the UK, Britain’s cyber security agency has warned.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said countries such as Russia would likely seek to meddle with the outcome of the poll – which must take place by January 2025 – as well as other major elections in western democracies in the coming year, including in the United States.=
In an annual review of a broad range of cyber security issues, the agency, which is part of GCHQ, warned about the prospect of increasingly realistic, deepfake videos and other forms of disinformation designed to influence voter preferences.
“While the UK’s use of paper voting in general elections makes it significantly harder to interfere with our elections, the next election will be the first to take place against the backdrop of significant advances in AI,” it said.
“But rather than presenting entirely new risks, it is AI’s ability to enable existing techniques which poses the biggest threat.”
This included fabricated online posts at speed and deepfake campaigns spread across social media at great speed.
“Any interference or attempts to undermine our political discourse are completely unacceptable and the UK government is committed to enhancing our capabilities and countering the threat from online harms, such as disinformation,” the NCSC said.
It described how the “threat landscape” had evolved “significantly” since the last UK general election in 2019, in particular in the wake of Russia’s war with Ukraine.
That conflict “has made the prospect of influencing the political discourse in democracies ever more attractive to state actors”, the agency said.
It also warned about the emergence of cyber actors that are aligned with malign states such as Russia and share the same ideological goals but can act with less restraint, calling this category “a new class of adversary for the UK to counter”.
“The NCSC assesses that democratic events, such as elections, almost certainly represent attractive targets for malicious actors and so organisations and individuals need to be prepared for threats, old and new,” the NCSC said.
In response, the UK has set up a Defending Democracy Taskforce and a Joint Election Security Preparedness unit.
As well as a focus on Russia, the NCSC report agency also flagged the ongoing cyber threat posed by China, Iran and North Korea.