Russian and Chinese hackers may have attempted to influence June’s referendum on the UK’s European Union (EU) membership, a committee of MPs has claimed.
A report by the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) concluded that “foreign powers” could have been behind the collapse of a voter registration website.
“PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference,” the committee comments in the document.
The registration website was overwhelmed in the lead-up to June’s Brexit vote, thwarting people’s attempts to sign up. The Government then extended the deadline for voter registration.
Prominent Leave campaigners, including former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, criticised the extension, claiming the government did it to encourage more young, anti-Brexit voters to sign up.
Although the committee did not directly identify who may have been responsible, they recommended “resilience against possible foreign interference in IT systems that are critical for the functioning of the democratic process”, adding:
“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.”
In the future, the committee wants to see more planning and “permanent machinery for monitoring cyber activity in respect of elections and referendums, for promoting cyber security and resilience from potential attacks…”
Speaking to ITV, the government rebuffed the claims and said the crash was merely due to a large number of people attempting to register at once.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “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.”