Russian hackers might have gamed Brexit

A website which allowed Britons to register to vote in last year’s European Union referendum might have been targeted by Russian hackers who crashed it before the deadline.

A committee of British MPs said that more than a million potential voters applied to register online in the run up to the deadline two weeks before last June’s vote and the government extended the cut-off point after the website crashed, blaming it on a late rush by mainly young citizens.

But parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said it did not rule out the possibility that the crash was caused by a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) cyber attack.

“PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference,” said the report.

The committee said that the interference would not have changed the outcome, but it was rather disconcerting anyway.

Russia has been accused of trying to influence the 2016 U.S. election and the committee said the government needed to ensure future elections and referendums were monitored with plans in pace to respond to and contain any cyber-attacks.

The report said that 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.”

The committee was also critical of the government’s failure to prepare for a vote for Brexit and former Prime Minister David Cameron’s motives for calling the referendum in the first place, saying using plebiscites as a “bluff call” to close “unwelcome debate” was questionable.

“There was no proper planning for a Leave vote so the EU referendum opened up much new controversy and left the prime minister’s credibility destroyed,” the report said.