MPs hint Russian hack was behind Brexit vote website crash… despite no evidence
A voter registration website that crashed in the lead-up to last year’s EU referendum may have been taken offline by foreign hackers, a group of MPs claimed in a report published on Wednesday, despite lacking evidence to back the claim.
MPs on the parliamentary Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said they could not rule out hackers caused the site to crash on June 7, just before the final deadline for people to sign up to vote. A previous government statement blamed the crash on a surge in demand following a TV debate.
“PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations of foreign interference,” the report says. It adds there was no evidence of the interference impacting the referendum outcome.
The report alleges that the cyberattack had “indications of being a [distributed denial-of-service] DDoS attack” using “botnets.”
However, it does not produce any evidence the attack actually took place. PACAC chairman Bernard Jenkin told the BBC there was “no hard and fast” evidence the site had been targeted, and declined to elaborate further.
While the report does not name any countries that may have been responsible for the alleged attack, it appears to point to Russia and China.
“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 Cabinet Office, which commissioned its own report into the website crash, disputes the findings, telling the BBC: “We have been very clear about the cause of the website outage in June 2016. It was due to a spike in users just before the registration deadline.
“There is no evidence to suggest malign intervention. We conducted a full review into the outage and have applied the lessons learned. We will ensure these are applied for all future polls and online services.”
Russia has been accused of trying to influence the 2016 US election, which it has consistently denied.
The committee called on the British government to set up a new cybersecurity center to permanently monitor potential attacks targeting elections and referendums.