Defender of Democracy: Dismas Ong’ondi travels the world ensuring hackers don’t undermine elections
Trust, credibility, accountability and fairness are crucial in any democratic election. Yet protecting the process from cyber threats is becoming harder, as countries turn to technology and voter registers go digital.
Which is why experts like Dismas Ong’ondi are so sought after. An advisor to the United Nations, the 53-year-old WMG Cyber Security and Management graduate travels to political hotspots around the world to ensure ballot box decisions are reached freely, without influence from criminals or enemy states with different motives and capabilities.
“It’s my responsibility to test the robustness of election systems – and that involves trying to break into them,” explains Dismas, who set up cyber security practice Synalock Cybersecurity LLC in Kenya after studying at Warwick.
“If a database isn’t secure, then the personal data of a country’s citizens could be exposed to a lifetime breach of their privacy. And this could decide the entire political direction and cause civil unrest. State-sponsored hacking or attempts to use technology to spread mis-information, alter voting intentions, or compromise election data can damage the integrity of the democratic process.”
As well as an MBA to his name, Dismas also came to WMG with many years’ experience as a security professional.
His background was an asset because he could relate the learning gained on the course to practice in industry. “The class joke was that once I’d asked the question then no one else needed to bother.”
What he left with was a deeper understanding of cyber security which is a constantly changing discipline, a wider network of contacts and new skills. Of particular benefit was the module in cyber-physical systems, which relates to the use of information technology to control the physical world such as transport or power distribution systems. This opened his eyes, says Dismas, to the need for increasingly automated systems to be properly protected, and led to him setting up his own business.
With any advancement comes challenges. For Dismas, this has been persuading people back home in Africa of the need for enhanced security. This includes giving guest lectures to university students, offering young people internships and creating awareness by talking to key players such as civil aviation bodies and policymakers.
Those progressive organisations who hire Dismas can be confident this WMG graduate has any gaps in their defences well and truly covered.