Foreign governments such as Russia and China may have been involved in the collapse of a voter registration website in the run-up to the EU referendum, a committee of MPs has claimed. A report by the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) said MPs were deeply concerned about the allegations of foreign interference in last year’s Brexit vote. The committee does not identify who may have been responsible, but has noted that both Russia and China use an approach to cyber-attacks based on an understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals. The findings follow repeated claims that Russia has been involved in trying to influence the US and French presidential elections.
Ministers were forced to extend the deadline to register to vote in the EU referendum after the collapse of the government’s website on 7 June, 100 minutes before the deadline. The collapse resulted in concerns that tens of thousands of people could have been disenfranchised. At the time, the government said it was the result of an unprecedented spike in demand, with more than 500,000 people trying to register on the final day.
The report, published on Wednesday, said there were clues that a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) using botnets – a network of computers infected with malicious software – was used to overwhelm the site.
“The crash had indications of being a DDOS ‘attack’. We understand that this is very common and easy to do with botnets… The key indicants are timing and relative volume rate,” the committee’s report said.