Indonesia says election under attack from Chinese, Russian hackers

Chinese and Russian hackers are attacking Indonesia's voter data base in a bid to disrupt the country's upcoming presidential election, according to a senior election commission official.

As Indonesia prepares for simultaneous presidential and legislative polls on April 17, authorities are facing a wave of cyber incursions they say may be aimed at discrediting the polling process. The head of Indonesia's General Elections Commission, Arief Budiman, said some of the attacks originated in Russia and China, and include attempts to "manipulate or modify" content as well as to create so-called ghost voters, or fake voter identities.

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"They try to hack our system," Budiman said in an interview in Jakarta on Tuesday. "Not only every day. Almost every hour," he said, adding it was unclear whether the motive was "to disrupt Indonesia" or to help one of the candidates win. "Voter behavior can be changed by de-legitimizing the organizer of the election," he said, referring to the General Elections Commission, known as KPU.

The latest developments come in the wake of a crackdown in Indonesia on so-called fake news and the use of social media to influence voters. And it follows allegations of Russian interference the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which was won by Donald Trump.

Russia rejected the allegation of cyber attacks in Indonesia as "baseless," with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying the country doesn't meddle. Russia "has no intention of interfering in any affairs of other states, especially in electoral processes. We don't like it when it's done to us and we never do it ourselves," Peskov told reporters Wednesday.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment. A spokesman for the Widodo campaign declined to comment on allegations of attempted hacking of the KPU database, as well allegations of voter fraud brought by the campaign team for presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto.

The commission also started an investigation into separate allegations of voter fraud raised by the campaign team for Subianto, more commonly known as Prabowo, Budiman said. The election pits Prabowo, a former special forces general, against the incumbent in Joko Widodo.

The probe, which is expected to be completed this week, will examine whether 17.5 million names have been fraudulently added to the electoral role. It comes after a meeting on Monday between the election commission and Hashim Djojohadikusumo, Prabowo's brother and the media and communications director for his campaign.

"We've discovered 17.5 million dubious names on the official voter role," Djojohadikusumo said Tuesday in a text message. He said there was a "massive number of other anomalies."

The latest allegations of voter fraud follow similar complaints made last year regarding the existence 25 million ghost voters. An investigation later showed that there were some 700,000 potential fake voters, Budiman said.

There were also allegations of voter fraud made by the Prabowo camp following the 2014 presidential election which the former general lost to Widodo. A lawsuit challenging the result of the election was rejected by the Constitutional Court.

"What we see now is some people, some parties, trying to create distrust of the KPU, because it will lead to distrust of the process and result, and eventually trigger conflicts," Budiman said on Tuesday.

Communications Minister Rudiantara, who uses only one name, said last year there was evidence that Widodo was being targeted by false claims aimed at discrediting him, with some of the attacks originating overseas. The election commission has also recently met with representatives from Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.'s Google to try to ensure social media platforms were not used to spread hoaxes and manipulate the political process.

Budiman said the commission would ensure a transparent and fair election. International observers have been invited to monitor the vote, he said.

With about four weeks to go in the campaign, polls show Widodo holding a lead of about 20 points over Prabowo. Still, the gap has narrowed and Prabowo has campaigned aggressively, prompting suggestions he could spring a "Mahathir-like" upset and follow Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in winning an unlikely victory.

 

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Bloomberg's Tony Halpin contributed.

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