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Foreign hackers may interfere in voter registration site before Brexit referendum

Foreign hackers may interfere in voter registration site before Brexit referendumAn influential group of UK MPs has concluded a foreign power may have been behind the crash of a key voter registration website in the run-up to the EU referendum last year, The Independent said on Wednesday.

The committee said it could not dismiss the idea that the site, launched to ensure as many people as possible voted in the historic referendum, was downed by a cyber attack using so-called “botnets”. In a critical passage, it states: “We do not rule out the possibility that there was foreign interference in the EU referendum.”

Its chairman told The Independent that such attacks are “entirely in character” of previous actions believed to have been launched by the agents of Russia and China.

It follows other accusations that Russia meddled in the June referendum as well as elections in the U.S. and amid heightened tensions with Moscow over its role in the Syria conflict.

In its report, the Commons Public Administration Committee claims that Russia and China use “a cognitive approach” to cyber warfare, which employs an understanding of mass psychology to manipulate individuals to their ends.

“We’ve seen this happen in other countries. Our own Government has made it clear to us that they don’t think there was anything, but you don’t necessarily find any direct evidence," Committee Chair Bernard Jenkin said.

“We have taken advice on this and you cannot rule out the possibility it was a direct attack and so, the point we make about the Russians and Chinese psychological approach to this kind of thing, means that it would be entirely in character,” he added.

The Register to Vote website crashed on the evening of 7 June 2016, less than three weeks before the critical vote.

Ministers have stated this was due to an exceptional surge in demand, partly due to confusion as to whether individuals needed to register to vote.

While accepting there is not direct evidence of an attack, the committee report said: “We do not rule out the possibility that there was foreign interference in the EU referendum caused by a DDOS (distributed denial of service) using botnets, though we do not believe that any such interference had any material effect on the outcome of the EU referendum.”

A DDOS is designed to bring a website to its knees by flooding it with useless traffic, either from botnets, a network of private computers infected with malicious software, or from web users who have been encouraged towards a particular end.

Mr Jenkin said: “They might have thought it was going to advantage one side or another. Or they might have wanted to be seen to be disrupting a western democratic process.”

“Our recommendation is primarily precautionary. We recommend the Government set up a monitoring unit, to ensure the kind of interference that has been claimed more widely in other countries, is not going to happen in our country. That’s important for public confidence in our democratic process,” he added.
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