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Video: UAE Federal National Council elections: Cybersecurity chief reveals how first hybrid ballot boxes were protected

Dubai: In a historic step towards embracing the digital era, the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC) successfully held its first hybrid election that lasted four days. With robust cybersecurity measures in place, the UAE has set a new benchmark for secure and efficient elections on the global stage.

For the first time, Emiratis would be able to participate in the electoral process through the official app or website from inside or outside the country. Voters could also exercise their right to vote in the conventional way by physically visiting the 24 major polling stations across the country on Saturday.

Mohammed Hamad Al Kuwaiti

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News on the last and main day of the elections on Saturday, Mohammed Hamad Al Kuwaiti, head of the UAE Cyber ​​Security Council, shed light on the cybersecurity measures taken to safeguard this transformative electoral process. The cybersecurity chief spoke while visiting Dubai’s main voting centre, at the Dubai World Trade Center (DWTC).

Al Kuwaiti noted that this election is a fundamental part of the broader digital transformation that the UAE has undertaken across all sectors.

“The choice is part of the transformation to a digital world,” he said.

The government’s unwavering support and commitment to ensuring the ease and efficiency of the electoral process played an important role in this milestone, he noted.

Controls and encryption

The cybersecurity chief said the key to hybrid election security lies in encryption, advanced security measures and strong information assurance.

He explained that end-to-end encryption ensures the confidentiality and integrity of the voting process, while the Security Operations Center (SOC) closely monitors various aspects of the system.

In addition, the electoral system complies with more than 188 cybersecurity controls, ensuring that the highest international standards are met.

2-factor authentication

Al Kuwaiti also highlighted the multi-layered security approach for the online voting system, which includes two-factor authentication through various means such as card verification, OTP (one-time password) and even facial recognition. These authentication layers aim to give voters maximum confidence in the security of their voting process.

Privacy top priority

Privacy remains a top priority, Al Kuwaiti said, ensuring that strict measures are in place to protect voters’ personal information.

“Our main goal here is to ensure a safe and smooth ride. The privacy of our information is the number one priority for us. And that is what we are guaranteeing here,” he stated.

Cybersecurity efforts not only encompass the technical aspects but also the human element, with a trained and dedicated team overseeing the entire process.

The United Arab Emirates has benchmarked its electoral process against international standards and has achieved high standards in both the electoral systems and processes used. The goal, as Al Kuwaiti said, is to make the electoral journey smooth and safe for UAE citizens.

‘The majority voted online’

Meanwhile, a senior official at the FNC’s Dubai Elections Committee, which operates under the National Electoral Committee, revealed that the elections in Dubai witnessed a significant shift towards digital voting, with the majority of voters choosing to cast their vote online. .

This was revealed by Essa Mohammed Khalifa Al Mutaiwei, Chairman of the Dubai Committee for FNC Elections.

Mohammed Hamad Al Kuwaiti (second from right) and Essa Mohammed Khalifa Al Mutaiwei (first from left) with other officials at Dubai's main voting center at the Dubai World Trade Center during the first-1696690106062

Essa Mohammed Khalifa Al Mutaiwei (left) and Al Kuwaiti (second from right) with other officials at Dubai’s main voting center at the Dubai World Trade Center.
Image Credit: Sajila Saseendran/Gulf News

Speaking to Gulf News at the DWTC polling station, Al Mutaiwei said the use of digital technology for elections in a secure environment contributed to the country’s goals of digital governance and sustainable development.

“I think this is what completes the UAE government’s vision of transforming into a digital government,” he said.

Highlighting the benefit of this digital transition, he said: “It is making life easier. That is why most people preferred to vote online this time.”

As the elections entered the final day, Al Mutaiwei said, officials and volunteers encouraged eligible voters to also cast their votes on electronic voting machines at polling centers until 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Eligible Emirati voters in Dubai had the option to exercise their right to vote at three physical voting centers across the city: Al Multaqa Hall in DWTC, Khawaneej Majlis in Al Khawaneej and Hatta Hall in Hatta.

Al Mutaiwei said arrangements had been made at voting centers to broadcast live coverage of the vote counting in real time and the announcement of the Abu Dhabi preliminary winners list for the candidates, ensuring transparency and real-time updates for all. This time there are 53 candidates in Dubai. According to the National Electoral Committee (CNE), a total of 309 candidates will participate in these elections, including 128 women.

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