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European Union elections 2024: securing democratic processes in light of new threats


8 min read

This post is also available in Deutsch, Français, Nederlands and Español.

Between June 6-9 2024, hundreds of millions of European Union (EU) citizens will be voting to elect their members of the European Parliament (MEPs). The European elections, held every five years, are one of the biggest democratic exercises in the world. Voters in each of the 27 EU countries will elect a different number of MEPs according to population size and based on a proportional system, and the 720 newly elected MEPs will take their seats in July. All EU member states have different election processes, institutions, and methods, and the security risks are significant, both in terms of cyber attacks but also with regard to influencing voters through disinformation. This makes the task of securing the European elections a particularly complex one, which requires collaboration between many different institutions and stakeholders, including the private sector. Cloudflare is well positioned to support governments and political campaigns in managing large-scale cyber attacks. We have also helped election entities around the world by providing tools and expertise to protect them from attack. Moreover, through the Athenian Project, Cloudflare works with state and local governments in the United States, as well as governments around the world through international nonprofit partners, to provide Cloudflare's highest level of protection for free to ensure that constituents have access to reliable election information.

Election security in 2024: dealing with new and upcoming threats

Ensuring a free, fair, and open electoral process and securing candidate campaigns is understandably a top priority for the EU institutions, as well as for national governments and cybersecurity agencies across the EU. European authorities have already taken a number of measures to ensure the elections are well-protected. Efforts to coordinate election security measures amongst the EU countries are led by the NIS Cooperation Group, with the support of the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), the European Commission, and the European External Action Service (the EU’s foreign service).

The NIS Cooperation Group recently issued an updated Compendium on safeguarding the elections amidst cybersecurity challenges, noting that “since the last EU elections in 2019, the elections threat landscape has evolved significantly”. Governments note in particular the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI), including deep fakes, but also the increased sophistication of threat actors and the trend of “hacktivists-for-hire” as new risks that need to be taken into account. European institutions also highlight today’s geopolitical context, with conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East impacting cyber threats and foreign influence campaigns in Europe. The European External Action Service analyzed cases of FIMI (Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference) during recent national elections in Spain and Poland, and put together suggested plans for governments on how to respond to the various stages of those FIMI campaigns originating from foreign (e.g. non-EU) actors. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said in a recent blog post that protecting the election process and more broadly European public debate from malign foreign actors “is a security challenge, which we need to tackle seriously”.

Some national governments have also warned against the risks of so-called hybrid threats, whereby foreign governments deploy various methods to exert influence on other states, including disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks and espionage. Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior notes that “elections are often a catalyst for increased levels of illegitimate activity by foreign governments, because stoking fear and spreading hate can contribute to the polarization of society, influencing voting habits. (...) We must make a determined effort to counter these threats.”

EU readiness for election season

As part of national and EU-level coordination amongst governments and agencies to prepare to mitigate threats and risks to the European elections, ENISA supports national governments’ measures to ensure the elections will be secure, including by organizing a cybersecurity exercise to test the various crisis plans and responses to potential attacks by national and EU level agencies and governments. ENISA has also put together a checklist for authorities in order to raise awareness on specific risks and threats to the election process.

The European Union has also prepared for other phenomena endangering the security and integrity of the election process, including the spread of disinformation via online platforms. For example, the European Commission recently issued strict guidelines for “Very Large Online Platforms” (VLOPs) and “Very Large Search Engines” (VLOSEs) under the EU Digital Services Act on measures to mitigate systemic risks online that may impact the integrity of elections. These large companies will be required to have dedicated staff to monitor for disinformation threats in the 23 official EU languages across the 27 member states, collaborating closely with European cybersecurity authorities. In addition, in line with upcoming EU legislation on transparency of political advertising, political ads on large social media platforms should be clearly labeled as such.

In its 11th EU Threat Landscape report, published in 2023, ENISA also warned about the risks associated with the rise of AI-enabled information manipulation, including the disruptive impacts of AI chatbots. The European Commission, in its efforts to fight the proliferation of deep fakes and sophisticated voter manipulation tactics through advanced generative AI systems, recently launched inquiries into major AI developers and promoted industry pledges in the context of the EU AI Pact.

The view from Cloudflare: increases in cyber attacks around elections

It is likely that the EU is going to see a trend similar to many other jurisdictions where there have been increases in cyber threats targeting election entities. In the period between November 2022 and August 2023, Cloudflare mitigated 213.78 million threats to government election websites in the United States. That amounts to 703,223 threats mitigated per day on average. There is indeed already evidence that European institutions are subject to increasing attacks.

In November 2023, the European Parliament website was subject to a large cyber attack. And in March 2024, French government websites faced attacks of “unprecedented intensity,” according to a spokesperson. A few days before the attacks, on February 25, 2024, Cloudflare blocked a significant DDoS attack on a French government website. It reached as much as 420 million requests per hour and lasted for over three hours.

The UK government warned last year that there were “sustained” cyberattacks against civil society organizations, journalists and public sector groups, as well as phishing attempts directed at British politicians. Most recently, the IT infrastructure of German political party CDU was hit by a “serious cyberattack” according to the German Interior Ministry.

We have also seen that the magnitude of cyber attacks overall is growing every year. As outlined in Cloudflare’s latest DDoS threat report, published in Q1 2024, Cloudflare’s defense systems automatically mitigated 4.5 million DDoS attacks during that first quarter, representing a 50% year-over-year (YoY) increase. EU governments noted in their 2024 Compendium on safeguarding the elections that DDoS attacks “can still be very effective in undermining the public’s trust in the electoral process, especially if affecting its most critical and visible phases – that is the transmission, aggregation and display of voting results”.

However, it is not only an increase in the size of attacks on websites that is keeping election officials up at night. There are often multiple attack vectors that need to be taken into account, and ensuring election processes and public institutions remain secure is a very complicated task. For example, in the three months leading up to the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, Cloudflare prevented around 150,000 phishing emails targeting campaign officials. ENISA’s latest EU Threat Landscape report, when discussing phishing campaigns, pointed to the risks of AI applied to social engineering (e.g. used for crafting more convincing phishing messages), which can make phishing less costly, easier to scale-up, and more effective. These developments all show how securing voter registration systems, ensuring the integrity of election-related information, and planning effective incident response are necessary as online threats grow more and more sophisticated.

Securing the democratic process in the digital age requires partnerships between governments, civil society, and the private sector. Cloudflare has helped election entities around the world by providing tools and expertise to protect themselves from cyberattack. For example, in 2020, we partnered with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems to provide Enterprise-level services to six election management bodies, including the Central Election Commission of Kosovo, State Election Commission of North Macedonia, and many local election bodies in Canada.

Impact on Internet traffic

Cloudflare’s global network, which spans more than 120 countries and protects around 20% of all websites, allows us a unique view of the trends and patterns seen in Internet traffic. Some of those trends, including traffic, connection quality, and Internet outages, can be seen in our Internet insights platform, Cloudflare Radar.

Several of these trends are especially important to watch during election season. Upon deeper analysis, we observed spikes in traffic to websites related to elections, and to news websites, during this time. From data obtained in 2023 through an analysis of US state and local government websites protected under the Athenian Project, as well as US nonprofit organizations that work in voting rights and promoting democracy under Project Galileo, and political campaigns and parties under Cloudflare for Campaigns, Cloudflare observed an increase in traffic to US election and non-profit websites during the run-up to elections, and then a significant spike on election day as seen in the graphs below.

Cloudflare observed similar patterns for election information websites and news media during the first day of the 2022 French Presidential elections and during the Presidential elections in Brazil that same year.

DNS traffic to election domains observed through Cloudflare’s resolver in April 2022, during the first round of the French Presidential elections
DNS traffic to election domains observed through Cloudflare’s resolver in April 2022, during the first round of the French Presidential elections

Coordinated efforts are key

The protection of election entities and related organizations and institutions is a huge and complex task. As noted, this requires partnerships and collaboration between different actors, both public and private, with specific expertise. The work done by EU governments and agencies to prepare, be ready and collaborate on election security precautions as outlined above is both welcome and necessary in order to ensure free, fair and above all secure elections. This can only ever be a coordinated effort, with both governments and industry working together to ensure a robust response to any threats to the democratic process. For its part, Cloudflare is protecting a number of governmental and political campaign websites across the EU.

We want to ensure that all groups working to promote democracy around the world have the tools they need to stay secure online. If you work in the election space and need our help, please get in touch. If you are an organization looking for protection under Project Galileo, please visit our website at

More information about the European Union elections can be found here. And if you are based in the EU, do not forget to vote!

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Athenian ProjectPoliticsElection SecurityEuropeEuropean UnionPolicy

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Petra Arts|@petra_arts

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