Cyber Security and US Elections

It is still too soon to predict the results of the US elections but one things is quite certain if Hillary Clinton loses the coming election, one reason would be her indiscretion in the cyber space. In March 2015, it became publicly known that Clinton, during her tenure as US Secretary of State, had exclusively used her family’s private email server for official communications, rather than official State Department email accounts maintained on federal servers. Those official communications included thousands of emails that would later be marked classified by the State Department retroactively. The FBI investigated her for wrong doing. The FBI investigations didn’t really exonerate but left her with a huge question mark on her political future. She has really emerged from this controversy bruised and battered with a large and growing majority of voters wondering if she can be trusted with official secrets.  According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, as she prepares to accept her party nomination at the convention in Philadelphia this month, she will confront an electorate in which 67 percent of voters say she is not honest and trustworthy. That number is up five percentage points from a CBS News poll conducted last month, before the FBI released its findings. Her six-percentage-point lead over the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, according to poll conducted last month has evaporated. The two candidates are now tied in a general election matchup, the new poll indicates, with each receiving the support of 40 percent of voters.  Compare this with the situation in Pakistan. We don’t know if our ministers or top officials use official servers or not or for that matter do they have official servers in their ministries or departments. We aren’t very sure if they use email addresses with exclusive domain names or they find it easier to use free services like gmail, hotmail and yahoo. One doesn’t know if our advisor or secretary foreign affairs use the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs (mofa.gov.pk) address or they find it more convenient to use their private gmail address created by a child or a grandchild. I know for certain that many bureaucrats can now be reached on their email addresses and in some cases they and not their personal assistants check up their emails on regular basis.     Free email services are insecure and vulnerable to hacking and these include popular mail services, including Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo. Their servers are all located without exception in the US. The companies providing free email services are also under obligation to share their data with the government. So there is double risk of unofficial and unofficial intrusion. Information can be sucked out without the user knowledge and there is no recourse to justice. The user has freely committed himself or herself to use their services without any damages to the sources. Even in case of official domains through private web hosting services, the servers are located outside the country.     Surprisingly in a country, where a prime minister has literally been floored by his political opponents because of a massive data breach of a Panamian legal firm Mossack Foneca storing the names of at least 200,000 companies, trusts and foundations set up in 21 jurisdictions. The massive tranches of information made available by the International Consortium of Journalist (ICIJ) caused turbulence worldwide. The ICIJ said it was putting the information online “in the public interest.” So what has been done about cyber security in a country, whose chief executive remains in the eye of the storm? Practically nothing! There is an urgent need to craft a proper national cyber security policy. We are still grappling with cybercrime bill in the face of intense opposition by digital rights campaigners.  Next we need to create an office of a national cybersecurity czar, who should be reporting directly to the prime minister.  There are too many agencies with turf rivalry issues to have a one window operation in this matter of acute national security. The government also needs to dedicate substantial amounts of money to shore up national cyber security defenses. This money should be made available under the head of cyber security. This is the area of next warfare and many countries allocate substantial amounts to safeguard their digital frontiers. National security means having impregnable cyber defenses.

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