Evidence suggests a DDoS attack was used to take down the voting registration site before the landmark vote
A committee of MPs has claimed that foreign governments could have interfered in last year’s EU referendum vote amidst a developing threat of nation state hacking.
The voter registration website infamously crashed in the run up to the vote, forcing ministers to extend the deadline to register and resulting in widespread confusion in the build-up to the UK’s landmark decision to leave the European Union.
Without directly pointing the finger, MPs suggested that the likes of Russia and China could have been involved in the website collapse, noting how both governments approach cyber attacks from the angle of exploiting individuals.
The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) report said that there are clues pointing to a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) being used to overrun the voting site, despite the government initially believing it was the result of a spike in demand.
“The crash had indications of being a DDOS attack”, the report says. “We understand that this is very common and easy to do with botnets… The key indicants are timing and relative volume rate.”
While the incident had no material effect on the referendum’s outcome, the possibility of foreign involvement has left MPs “deeply concerned” and the report notes that lessons must be learned for future votes.
“The US and UK understanding of ‘cyber’ is predominantly technical and computer network-based. For example, Russia and China use a cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals.
“The implications of this different understanding of cyber-attack, as purely technical or as reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion, for the interference in elections and referendums are clear.”
The report follows widespread claims that the Kremlin was involved in trying to influence last year’s Presidential elections in the US and officials directly blamed “senior” Russian government figures for politically motivated hacking towards the end of last year.
This led ex-president Barack Obama to order a “full review” into such activities and 35 Russian diplomats have since been expelled from America as tensions between the two countries continues to rise.
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