The EU referendum registration website crash could have been the work of foreign hackers, a committee of MPs has warned

 
Emma Haslett
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The website crashed hours before the voter registration deadline (Source: Getty)

Back at the beginning of June, as the UK geared up for the Brexit referendum, voters were given a flavour of the chaos to come as the government's voter registration crashed just an hour before the deadline, causing an outpouring of Twitter outrage.

At the time, the government put the crash down to unexpectedly high demand, saying 200,000 people an hour had been trying to register when the website went down.

But now a new report from a committee of MPs has suggested more sinister forces could have been at play: the outage could have been a result of hacking.

A report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said it cannot rule out the possibility there had been "foreign interference" in the referendum, with a hacker using a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the site. DDoS attacks effectively bombard websites with so much traffic they collapse under the pressure.

"Although the committee has no direct evidence, it considers that it is important to be aware of the potential for foreign interference in elections or referendums," the report said.

"[The committee] does not rule out the possibility that the crash may have been caused by a DDoS using botnets... PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference," it added.

"We recommend that Cabinet Office, the Electoral Commission, local government, GCHQ and the new government cyber security centre establish permanent machinery for monitoring cyber activity in respect of elections and referendums, for promoting cyber security and resilience from potential attacks, and to put plans and machinery in place to respond to and to contain such attacks if they occur. "

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Immediate action

Malcolm Murphy, technology director for western Europe at cyber security firm Infoblox, said the government must take "immediate action".

“The number of DDoS attacks is growing, and organisations need to remain vigilant and create safeguards against increasingly sophisticated and damaging botnet and malware attacks," he said.

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