Voter lists have become the latest battleground in the run-up to elections in the world’s third-largest democracy, with claims of infiltration by Chinese and Russian hackers and millions of “ghost voters” being added.

Last week – a month before the election – the head of Indonesia’s election commission (KPU) fuelled foreign meddling fears after he was quoted as saying that hackers from Russia and China had been unrelenting in attempts to “manipulate and modify” Indonesia’s electoral roll, which includes the data of more than 187 million eligible voters.

However the claim made by commission chief Arief Budiman was disputed by its own IT security team. Harry Sufehmi, an IT infrastructure consultant at the KPU, said there were constant hacking attempts which appear to be from countries such as China, Russia and the US, but the attempts most likely originated at home.

“Probably most of them are local hackers,” explains Sufehmi, “They are just using jump points in those countries to cover their trail.”

In February, President Joko Widodo accused the opposition of utilising “Russian propaganda” to spread disinformation. Facebook has also banned foreign election advertisements in the lead-up to the April poll.

Yet despite fears of foreign interference and hackers attempting to hijack Indonesia’s upcoming polls, the KPU’s security team said the frequency and source of attempted hacks on its voter database remain unchanged since 2014, when Indonesia last held presidential elections.

“There are 10 to 20 attempts on average per day, but mostly automated attempts, not an actual hacker crafting some kind of special attack,” said Sufehmi, “So far I think it is mostly individuals, not state actors, and just individuals from Indonesia. That is consistent with patterns we have observed for years, since 2014.”

Hacking attempts on the voter database are so constant they are considered “normal”, said Sufehmi. As a high-profile institute, successfully infiltrating the national electoral database would be considered a badge of honour in underground hacker circles.

With no successful attempts, the team tasked with safeguarding the voter list believes it is currently secure, but there are concerns about irregularities creeping into the data in other ways.

The opposition alleges there are 17.5m questionable identities in the voter list this year – an unsupported claim the election commission is investigating.

Earlier this month the elections commission removed the names of 101 foreign nationals that had made their way on to national electoral roll. On Monday two more foreigners, one from the UK and the US, were found on the list in West Java.

The announcement followed uproar last month over reports a Chinese national and permanent resident of Indonesia was also found on that list. The confusion and negligence was put down to similarities between the permanent resident and citizen ID cards.

In a campaign environment awash with fake news, the error added to longstanding fears about Chinese influence in Indonesia.

This January, rumours alleging that seven containers full of millions of marked ballot papers shipped from China were being stored at a Jakarta port quickly went viral. The election commission labelled the claim a hoax.

Fears over “ghost voters” and other anomalies in Indonesia’s electoral roll are a regular occurrence.

In 2014 the constitutional court dismissed a claim by defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto – who is running again this year – that there had been fraud in the voter list.

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