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On the latest episode of Security Visionaries host Max Havey dives into a conversation about the complex world of election security with Shamla Naidoo and co-host Emily Wearmouth. As a distinguished law professor at the University of Illinois, Naidoo offers a fresh and valuable perspective on the influence of rapidly advancing technology on our electoral processes. The episode takes a look at aspects of election security around voter registration and physical controls at polling places. Naidoo’s biggest worry, though, is not about compromise at the polls, but instead the alarming rise of psychological manipulation through misinformation and disinformation, emphasizing the need for consumer education and awareness in combating these deceptive tactics. Tune in to hear critical discussions on combating these threats and tangible tips for consumers on how to adopt a discerning attitude towards information.

As a cybersecurity practitioner, I’ve looked very hard at all the places and opportunities available for compromise, because that’s what I do. And I will tell you that I’ve identified the places and on the day of election, there’s no opportunity for large-scale compromise to the digital systems.

—Shamla Naidoo, Head of Cloud Strategy and Innovation at Netskope
Shamla Naidoo

 

Timestamps

*(00:01): Introduction*(20:53): Government initiatives in combating misinformation
*(01:31): Shamla's perspective on teaching a class about digital election law*(25:45): Consumer education and awareness
*(04:43): Impact of technology on elections*(28:06): Tips for discerning consumers
*(11:38): Importance of physical controls in polling places*(29:10): Significance of informed voting
*(16:34): Challenges of misinformation and disinformation

 

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On this episode

Shamla Naidoo
Head of Cloud Strategy and Innovation at Netskope

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Shamla Naidoo

Shamla Naidoo is a technology industry veteran with experience helping businesses across diverse sectors and cultures use technology more effectively. She has successfully embraced and led digital strategy in executive leadership roles such as Global CISO, CIO, VP, and Managing Partner, at companies like IBM, Anthem (Wellpoint), Marriott (Starwood), and Northern Trust.

Emily Wearmouth
Director of International Communications and Content at Netskope

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Emily Wearmouth

Emily Wearmouth is a technology communicator who helps engineers, specialists and tech organisations to communicate more effectively. At Netskope, Emily runs the company’s international communications and content programmes, working with teams across EMEA, LATAM, and APJ. She spends her days unearthing stories and telling them in a way that helps a wide range of audiences to better understand technology options and benefits.

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Max Havey
Senior Content Specialist at Netskope

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Max Havey

Max Havey is a Senior Content Specialist for Netskope’s corporate communications team. He is a graduate from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with both Bachelor’s and Master’s in Magazine Journalism. Max has worked as a content writer for startups in the software and life insurance industries, as well as edited ghostwriting from across multiple industries.

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Shamla Naidoo

Shamla Naidoo is a technology industry veteran with experience helping businesses across diverse sectors and cultures use technology more effectively. She has successfully embraced and led digital strategy in executive leadership roles such as Global CISO, CIO, VP, and Managing Partner, at companies like IBM, Anthem (Wellpoint), Marriott (Starwood), and Northern Trust.

Emily Wearmouth

Emily Wearmouth is a technology communicator who helps engineers, specialists and tech organisations to communicate more effectively. At Netskope, Emily runs the company’s international communications and content programmes, working with teams across EMEA, LATAM, and APJ. She spends her days unearthing stories and telling them in a way that helps a wide range of audiences to better understand technology options and benefits.

LinkedIn logo

Max Havey

Max Havey is a Senior Content Specialist for Netskope’s corporate communications team. He is a graduate from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with both Bachelor’s and Master’s in Magazine Journalism. Max has worked as a content writer for startups in the software and life insurance industries, as well as edited ghostwriting from across multiple industries.

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Episode transcript

Open for transcript

Max Havey [00:00:01] Hello and welcome to another edition of the Security Visionaries Podcast, a podcast all about the world of cyber data and tech infrastructure, bringing together experts from around the world and across domains. I'm your host, Max Havey, senior content specialist at Netskope, and today we're talking about elections. It's the year of the election, so we would be remiss if we didn't dedicate an episode to election security and cyber threats to democracy. And as luck would have it, regular guest and friend of the show Shamla Naidoo is, among many other things, a law professor at the University of Illinois and teaches a class about election security. So, chatting with her ahead of recording another episode, we learned about this and we just had to get her on, so. Shamla, welcome back. Glad to have you here.

Shamla Naidoo [00:00:41] Thank you for having me, Max. It's great to be back.

Max Havey [00:00:44] And for the first time ever, we also have my co-host, the great Emily Wearmouth, as a guest. There have been suspicion that we're a bit like Superman and Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne and Batman. Never in the same room together. But we are here to dispel those myths. Emily, welcome to the show.

Emily Wearmouth [00:00:59] It's so good to be here with you, Max. I'm excited. We both exist.

Max Havey [00:01:03] Absolutely. We do indeed both exist. And the reason that we're both here today is, frankly, we both really wanted to get in on talking to Shamla about this. With me sitting here in the U.S. with eyes on the elections in November and Emily sitting in the UK promising to interrogate Shamla about wider international elections and democratic systems. So, without further ado, let's jump in. Shamla, to get things started here. How is teaching a class about election law in the digital world changed the way that you sort of look at election season here?

Shamla Naidoo [00:01:31] You know, Max, one of the things that I do is I teach and many of the people in my classes are young adults, and without kind of the benefit of having 40 years worth of life and corporate experience to actually look at all of this as a holistic issue. And so I've had to figure out how to break down the problem into small parts, simply because when we talk about elections, people often think about election equals good, bad, you know, compromise not compromise. Fair, unfair. We think about it in very much a binary way, and we need to be thinking about this in small parts, because an election is an entire process, and it has a workflow that actually extends from before the election, during the election, after the election. And each of those has its own opportunities. They have their own challenges. They have their own digital footprint. So one of the things that I've had to do to teach this topic more effectively is to break this up into smaller parts. So it's consumable that we identify the issues in a very unique way, because when we can identify the issues uniquely, we can come up with solutions. But if we just throw everything and the kitchen sink into this election security or election fraud or election compromise, it seems too simple. And one of the things that I learned most of all is to break this up into consumable chunks of conversation.

Emily Wearmouth [00:03:01] Shamla, how old are the people that you're teaching? I'm wondering whether some of them might never have, participated in a democratic process. Have they all voted before?

Shamla Naidoo [00:03:10] Actually, most of them would have, because this is a kind of postgraduate study program. So most of them would have participated in an election of some sort. However, I do from time to time find students who are either foreign students in the US studying postgraduate here. I also find immigrants who have just been naturalized into the US who have never participated, but they are adults and so there's a good mix. One of the things I do is I have my students do an exercise of saying, go register to vote in an election. And if you've already registered, figure out what happens if you try to register again. I also tell them if you've registered and everything is fine with your registration, go find someone in your community who you can help to register to vote. Somebody who's coming into the process just now, or somebody who's not old enough to understand how to navigate all of the technology that goes with this. So I have them go through and do this step by step to learn and to observe. Right. Because it's just very easy for us to talk theoretically until you actually do it, and you do it with the lens of what could go wrong with what I'm doing. It doesn't enrich the learning process.

Max Havey [00:04:33] Absolutely. And Shamla as you've been teaching this class, what are some of the biggest ways that you're seeing evolving technology impacting elections here? Like are you seeing evolving technologies impacting elections?

Shamla Naidoo [00:04:43] Yes, definitely I see this. But again, let's break it up. And I'm going to talk specifically in the US because that's the system I know best. Right. So in the US before the election, the technology that's used is to help people to register to vote. To capture all of their personal information to make sure that they are eligible. To do all of that kind of record. Who you are and express your right to vote. Right now, what you find is you can go online. These are internet connected systems. You can go online. You can register. You put in all your information. And, you know, identify yourself, etc.. Now could you masquerade as someone else? Absolutely. So the opportunity for fraud does exist. There's another common way that people register to vote is you might have canvasing teams who go out into the communities and encourage people to register to vote, and they might collect all your information, either on a piece of paper with a clipboard, and pretty much take it back to an office environment where they might have the technology and capture all that information on your behalf. Now nothing stops them from making up some of that information. Nothing stops them from tampering with the information and adding additional people, additional records, etc.. So that's that. The registration to vote. Is it open to compromise? Absolutely. Can someone hack into that system? Add records, take records out, change your name from Max to Mathew? Absolutely. Those opportunities exist. But remember, these are kind of preparatory systems. They not the actual voting systems. So just because that is exposed to some measure of fraud and other types of compromise doesn't make that the end result. So you could end up with a voter roll that looks extremely large or extremely short. But it doesn't mean that that is the authentic way. Remember, when you go into a polling station, you identify yourself. They look for you on the voting roll. Then you really have to take additional steps to validate that you are who you say you are. And the information captured about you in the voter registration is accurate. If not, there's a whole bunch of administration that goes into correcting that information. So the validation happens on the day of voting on the day of elections. Prior to this, technology that actually helps you do this helps you do it well. You might have electronic validation, you might have checks and balances, etc. and you know there are systems that are open to compromise as well. On the day of election though, that's when you have the validation, because only after you pass those checks and balances can you actually go in a booth with a with the ballot and vote.

Emily Wearmouth [00:07:46] It's interesting when I and I know you said you're an expert in the US system, and I'm playing through sort of international translation. We have very similar processes in the UK where the primary digitization opportunity has happened on voter registration, but it's like the day you go into on polling day, it's your multi-factor authentication that you've also walked in. And for the first time last year, we had to take ID and it was very antiquated before that, that the ID shown in person becomes your multi-factor authentication to protect against risks on the digitization process of registering to vote. It's sort of that multi-touch check that you don't think about when you think about these processes in isolation.

Shamla Naidoo [00:08:25] Absolutely. And so, you know, every, every election will have some measure of kind of voter registration unless you show up. And I remember doing this right in South Africa in the first democratic election. There was no way to do voter registration. And even if you did, they would just, you know, tens and hundreds of millions of people going to vote. So essentially what happened is when you went to vote, you got a cross put on your skin that wouldn't wash off for seven days. And so once you had that, you couldn't go vote again somewhere else in a fraudulent way. You were done, right. You had voted. And so it's steps like that that countries take in the polling station that actually does, like you talked about the multi-factor authentication, but there's also a number in the US anyway, there's a number of physical controls. So we depend heavily on physical controls in the polling place. Everything from video cameras that tracks every single action that will track you from the moment you walk in til the moment you walk out, making sure that you didn't do anything untoward. There are cameras, there's audio recording equipment, and then there's physical election judges who are neutral. They are not affiliated with any particular party. They are meant to be observers. And then there are some judges who will actually be arbitrators or mediators of any kind of contention. So, for example, if I. Show up and I said, I'm on the voter roll. Here's my ID, I need a vote, and they don't find me there. They are still allowed to give me a ballot so that I can vote. The administrative personnel will take that ballot, and they'll set it aside for extra attention later so that I don't get upset. They don't create contention in the polling place. They give me a fair chance to vote, but that doesn't mean my vote automatically counts. There's additional steps that get taken, so there's a lot of physical checks and balances that occur in the polling place to make sure that it's fair and that it's accessible to everyone who is allowed to. But just because you were allowed to have a ballot doesn't mean that the ballot gets counted. And so [00:10:50]I would argue that the physical controls in the polling place are probably the most robust. And I hav