Brexit Hacker? Cyber Attacker? Or just a System Cracker?

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I like a good conspiracy theory – usually more for amusement than to take seriously. Surely if there was any possible truth behind a Brexit Hacker story we’d have to wonder why no-one mentioned it a little bit sooner.

Perhaps…before Article 50 was triggered?

True to form in the UK, there had to be a protracted inquiry costing huge amounts of tax payer money, and producing a document that only those immune from jargon-induced comas would be bothered to read. And the net result is little more than a shrug of the shoulders and a mild – but quite pertinent – stab at the resignation of David Cameron.

After the accusations that Russia had interfered with the US Presidential elections I have only managed to muster up an apathetic sigh at this attempt to scream “fix” from the “Remain” side. It seems a little too much like children in a playground complaining about severe bullying, only to have a quiet voice echoing from behind the accusers saying: “yeh, and he called me a snot-face, too!”

Brexit Hacker – Social Slacker?

However, we must be careful not to mock the concept of hacking and potential of cyber-attacks to cause genuine, massive disruption. According to a report in the Guardian in February, there had been 188 high-level cyber attacks on the UK in the previous three months that posed a threat to national security. Of course they won’t give details on these, but it is a chilling thought to remember that we are always under attack. It might be less obvious than a physical attack, but it is no less potentially damaging.

Our entire social infrastructure is almost entirely reliant on the digital networks we live by. Even one leading bank being hit can lead to chaos, and we often underestimate the knock-on effect that one attack can have. Just one phone network brought down could disable payment and ordering systems right across our business and personal lives. Security systems can fail; financial and commercial; travel and infrastructure; all of these and much more can fall victim.

When the internet first came into existence it was something that only scientists used to communicate. Then it became increasingly central to our lives to the point that 89% of UK households now have the internet, and the majority of remaining 11% are mostly pensioners. Now over 70% of adults can access the internet regularly on their smartphone. So, cyber-attacks on any aspect of the internet have the potential to massively affect the vast majority of the UK.

(ONS statistics on internet use.)

Did the Referendum Hackers send our Democracy Crackers?


Firstly, let’s not forget that there is a constant team of investigating officers whose job is dedicated to protecting our interests on the internet. We don’t know about each attack, and we don’t need to know. The problem with the EU voter registry was minor – Brexit Hackers or not – and was rectified quickly, and weeks before the actual voting day.

More importantly, if an individual was already on the electoral roll they would have received a polling card sent to their address – just like any other election. There was plenty of time to register for the EU referendum well before the deadline if someone wasn’t yet on the electoral roll. So, if the Brexit Hacker problem did affect anyone and prevented them from registering to vote, then that really was their own fault for leaving it so late.

The only people to blame for apathy are those who are apathetic. Those who say: “I don’t vote because my vote means nothing” are right. Their vote does mean nothing, when they didn’t even submit one. Whatever the excuse might be to have not registered at all, or not registered earlier, the simple fact is that one Brexit Hacker attack on 7th June (or any other prior failed attempts) only affected those who weren’t exactly being proactive in their part in the democratic process.

I wrote at length about the “democracy” of the referendum and how the process developed from history in our blog ‘Why a Second Referendum Could Just Repeat the Same. However, in the end, what democracy really boils down to is an individual’s responsibility to uphold their role in democratic due process.

Even if there were Brexit Hackers performing some kind of cyber-attack – presumably with the intention of undermining our democracy – we’d have to be crackers to even think that such an attack had any effect on the result.

So, conspiracy theorists around the UK can sit comfortably in their armchair at home, sipping their tea; or order another over-priced corporate coffee as they bash away at their laptop in full public view. The “leave” side still got more votes than “remain.”

As for who “won” the referendum: that remains to be seen.

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