Thursday, 30 June 2016

Lack of Security Taints EU Re-Vote Petition

The Brexit votes had barely been tallied and made official when opponents of the outcome established an online petition calling for a second vote. That much was expected in the days and weeks leading up to the vote, given that polling showed things to be extremely close. What was not expected is an almost ridiculous lack of security that has allowed the petition to be tainted by auto bots.

According to the BBC, the House of Commons petitions committee has said it has already removed 77,000 invalid signatures coming from people allegedly living in Antarctica, North Korea, the Sandwich Islands and even the Vatican. Although officials say that most of the remaining signatures now appear to be from people living in the UK, there is no way to know how many of those signatures were added legitimately as opposed to being placed on the petition through auto bots.

An Appalling Lack of Security

The re-vote petition is already the most active petition ever placed on the Parliamentary website. The BBC says it currently has 3.6 million signatures. However, one computer security expert told the BBC that any site like the House of Commons petition site needs to have security measures in place to defeat intrusions. We clearly agree.

What's most appalling about the lack of security in this case is the fact that stopping auto bots is relatively simple. It's not as if we are talking about encrypted malware or tough-to-detect rootkits that go to the heart of computer networking systems. Auto bots are nothing more than computer scripts that log onto a website and submit or retrieve data without any human intervention. They can be stopped with something as simple as a captcha script.

Because whoever designed the petition site was so careless, there is no way of knowing how many of the signatures on the petition calling for a second EU vote are legitimate. But it goes beyond just this petition. How many other petitions have been affected by the site's lack of security?

The BBC references a group that runs the 4chan message board as being one of the primary attackers of the re-vote petition. According to their report, one of the message boards members claims to have signed the petition some 33,000 times simply by running an auto bot.

Things Must Change Now

For the record, the House of Commons petitions committee says it will continue to monitor the situation for any additional evidence of auto bot activity. Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron has said there would be no second vote, regardless of the petition and its signatures.

That's all well and good, but something must be done to improve the security of the petition site now. If we cannot trust something as simple as online petitions as being secure, we are left to wonder how many other government websites are equally vulnerable. Shame on the House of Commons and their web developer for such a stunning lack of security.

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