Arne Schönbohm, President of the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), shares the uncomfortable feeling that prevails among many that, after long debates about a “stolen election” in the USA and other disinformation campaigns, something could also happen in Germany around the federal election. , not like that. “We protect the core election process,” he asserted on Thursday at a panel on the super election year and challenges posed by the network as part of the annual congress of the “Germany Safe in Internet” (DsiN) initiative in Berlin.
IT infrastructure secured
The BSI has taken a “multitude of measures” to secure the IT infrastructure behind the ballot box, explained Schönbohm. “We are quite well prepared.” For example, the authority has set up a kind of “red telephone”, in particular to the operators of social networks such as Facebook and Google, in order to be able to react quickly to “hybrid threats with hate” if necessary. It also has its own situation center, for example to identify automated bots that “send identical messages”. If the experts came across such a network, they informed the relevant social media providers, who would then have to intervene.
According to the manager, the cooperation with the “googles of this world” also includes “identifying attack patterns at an early stage”. At the same time, the BSI is cooperating with the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and other security authorities to initiate countermeasures if necessary. In addition, there is an exchange at the state secretary level in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, where numerous committees and institutions such as the Federal Agency for Civic Education are involved.
“We are preparing for many different scenarios”, assured Schönbohm and was optimistic: “At the end of September we will also see that we have managed everything well.” At the same time, however, he admitted that Germany, as the largest country in the EU, was an “attractive destination”. Already now the top candidate of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, sees herself exposed to a “multitude of hateful comments” and “indecency”. On social media, he made a “principle of reinforcing ideas for regulars”. In the fight against it, the technology providers are even more concerned: “I would like more oomph.”
Attacks on local politics
Two out of three local politicians have already been threatened, insulted, insulted or even physically attacked online, reported Alexander Handschuh, spokesman for the German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB). This is dangerous for democracy and the community. He therefore advocated greater responsibility for online platforms, and the role of the algorithms used by them should also be better examined.
In the perception of some contemporaries, “a bit of a distorted image” has arisen over the network communication, said the municipal representative. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reach a consensus. He therefore welcomed the fact that the city of Dortmund had recently been awarded the right to not only publish resolution texts from the city council on its website, but also to report on local events. Private media organizations wanted to set clear limits for the community here.
In general, the municipalities are able to hold elections well and safely across the board, said Handschuh: “Everyone can rely on it to work.” It is a well-practiced process, even a “celebration of democracy”. Nonetheless, it is to be feared that “the one glitch” that might actually occur would “give rise to conspiracy theories”.
Awareness of online protection is still insufficient
Stephan Micklitz, director for data protection and security at Google Germany, also sees the group as “well positioned”. He confirmed the direct exchange with BSI, and an internal “Threat Analysis Group” observed disinformation and attacks. Targeted attacks on certain accounts in Germany are rare. If you find out about fake news campaigns, you can display references to “official sources of information”.
DsiN board member also reminded that there is the freedom to express different opinions within the framework of the legal and “our community guidelines”. If necessary, Google also changes these and the algorithms, and the company can also provide “additional data” for this purpose. It is “absolutely important to continue the dialogue there”. DsiN also have the action “Politicians safe online“Introduced in which, for example, MPs at the Google Safety Center in Munich could have workshops explained how they could secure their accounts. So far, politicians have not been very aware of online protection.
Even if security gaps in the evaluation software PC-Wahl were already making headlines in this country, Ulrike Rockmann, deputy state election officer for Berlin, saw no broad areas for manipulation. “Everyone gets an election notification,” she said. In this way it is easy to see if someone is not on the electoral roll or the population register on which it is based. Should someone be “partial” in the polling stations, on the one hand the influence is not so great, on the other hand the ballot papers can be counted in case of doubt. The IT electoral systems of the federal and state governments are “well protected according to all the rules of the art”.
In order to relieve the election workers, 35,000 of whom are on duty from morning to night in Berlin alone, Rockmann would like to have “scanner machines that sit on the ballot boxes”. In California, the ballot papers would be fed into these machines and read out by them, “so that the results are available quickly”. Their application would be ideal, especially in postal polling stations, which is currently failing because of the money. In tests by IT security experts, however, such scanners also performed poorly. In spite of such “voting machine massacres”, Schönbohm was not particularly concerned that the social election would soon be the third largest online election in this country: “We are approaching. That is a good thing”.