LONDON — The EU referendum may have been compromised by a foreign cyber attack, a new report by MPs has claimed.
A parliamentary committee warned on Wednesday that the official government website for registering to vote in the referendum may have been taken down by a hostile foreign power.
The website crashed in the final hours before the official deadline for registering last June, forcing the government to pass emergency legislation to extend the deadline.
Late registrants were widely considered to more likely to be younger voters likely to support remaining in the EU.
The decision to extend the deadline caused fury among many Leave supporters and Leave-supporting newspapers who accused the government of trying to “rig” the result.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said today that they could not “rule out the possibility that the initial crash may have been caused by a DDOS (distributed denial of service attack) using botnets.”
The MPs said they were “deeply concerned” about the possibility that there had been “foreign interference” in the process and warned that the interference may have extended beyond just one attack.
“Lessons in respect of the protection and resilience against possible foreign interference in IT systems that are critical for the functioning of the democratic process must extend beyond the technical,” they warned.
“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. PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference.”
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told Business Insider earlier this year that he believes the UK government are hiding information about Russian interference in the EU referendum.
“I was very suspicious about the UK government’s reticence in talking about this,” he told BI. “Our government clearly knows more than they’re letting on and I think it’s slightly suspicious that they’re not being more open about it. In fact, they’re being less open than any other Western democracy has been.”
The UK government has repeatedly dismissed the possibility that the EU referendum may have been compromised by Russian interference.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman today rejected any suggestion that there had been a foreign attack on the website, saying it was “due to a spike in users just before the registration deadline. There is no evidence to suggest malign intervention”.
In a letter seen by Business Insider last month, the cabinet office minister tasked with protecting future UK elections from external interference, also said there was only a “negligible” chance of direct Russian interference in British elections.
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