LIMASSOL, Cyprus – With only several days to the US midterm elections and European Parliament elections in May 2019, cyber security threats, misinformation, and influencing public opinion is a major concern, an Internet security expert told New Europe.

“The big danger is botnet networks,” Andrey Yarnykh, head of strategic projects at Kaspersky Lab, told New Europe on the sidelines of a terrorism and electronic media conference in Limassol, Cyprus, on November 1.

“They crack a network of private computers, controlled as a group by cyber criminals and sometimes real users don’t know that their computers are used for placement of news, fake news accounts,” Yarnykh said adding that botnet networks are used to produce denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, making a machine or network resource unavailable to its legitimate users by creating a flood of incoming messages, connection requests or malformed packets.

“It is possible to stop computers, which are used for calculating the number of voters, if they are connected to the Internet, or just influencing the public opinion,” he said.

Asked if is possible for hackers to disrupt the election process, Yarnykh said, “Of course it’s possible. We see that the hackers are interested in everything, in every direction and attack the government structures, the state structures and try to steal information, sometimes to distort it. There are risks and danger of influence of cyber criminality on Internet sites, on services connected to the Internet,” he said.

He noted, however, that it is unlikely that hackers could disrupt the actual election process on the day of the election. “As a rule the electoral systems are well protected and they are not connected to the Internet. They have their own infrastructure and the outside influence in election process is difficult…I mean the technical means. From the point of view of disinformation and fake news, it’s possible, it’s easier.”

“What we see is a lot of content is being generated by robots and also the writing of viruses. This is not the work of individual work, but the result of automatisation of virus writers, using the same instruments in the information area. So, it’s possible to create fake accounts and fake followers,” he said, adding that people who try to influence elections can be both individuals and organisations.

While Yatnykh said is it possible to use Artificial Intelligence to create new threats to election security and for hackers to use AI to target campaigns, he noted that Artificial Intelligence is only at the initial stage of development. “We’re at the start of using Artificial Intelligence to introduce it in the process. So in the future everything is possible.”

Yarnykh urged people “to be very accurate and attentive in the Internet. “Don’t go to strange websites,” he said, adding “Upgrade operating systems and important software programmes and use antivirus protection as an element of basic protection.”