A Labour spokeswoman said: “We have ongoing security processes in place to protect our platforms, so users may be experiencing some differences. We are dealing with this quickly and efficiently.” Following reports of a second cyber-attack, a Labour Party spokesperson said: "We have ongoing security processes in place to protect our platforms, so users may be experiencing some differences. We are dealing with this quickly and efficiently."
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned all political parties about the high likelihood of being targeted with cyberattacks during elections for years. An NCSC spokesman said the Labour Party followed the correct procedure and notified them swiftly of Monday's cyber-attack, adding: "The attack was not successful and the incident is now closed".
Despite the apparent 'failure' of this attack, it raises important questions around the security of data ahead of the vote: Who is behind this attack? What is the intended outcome? Do political parties have the required level of security to ward off nation-state hackers?
A Labour source said the attacks came from computers in Russia and Brazil, but given it was a DDoS attack, that attack source is likely from 'zombie' controlled computers, so the countries cited as generating the network traffic on mass against the Labour Party IT systems have no bearing on who the culprit behind the attacks is. The DDoS attacks such as these can be orchestrated from any part of the world, so the culprit could be anyone from a nation-state offensive cyber team to a bored 14-year-old kid sat in a bedroom.
A zombie computer is where malware with ‘command and control software” has inflected a computer, which allows the computer to be remotely controlled by a hacker over the internet to perform malicious tasks. Computer users are typically unaware their computer is infected and is being controlled. Where hackers infect and control computers on mass over the internet, it is known as a botnet.
Botnets can have tens and even hundreds of thousands of computers remotely controlled by a hacker. Such botnets are used to send spam and phishing emails, and to perform Distributed Denial of Service DDoS) attacks. A DDoS attack is where a hacker instructs computers within the botnet to send network traffic to a website or server, at the same time, to flood server(s) with so much network traffic the server or website is unable to provide a service or function.
Tom Kellermann, Head Cybersecurity Strategist at VMware Carbon Black said "The UK government should be lauded for its ability to successfully thwart an attack campaign targeting its digital platforms. It’s clear the west is under siege as a new Cold War continues to emerge in cyberspace.
Anthony Webb, EMEA Vice President at A10 Networks said “Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks present one of the most dangerous forms of cyber threat for political parties and can cause serious reputational and financial damage. This is especially prominent during a General Election campaign when the party will be engaged in influencing voters, thus widening their cyber footprint. The UK Labour Party has suffered two DDoS attacks in quick succession, indicating that similar, future attacks are likely.
While the political parties participating will be on-guard following this latest attack, they all must be prepared for even more sophisticated, multi-vector application layer attacks throughout the remainder of the election period, that could seriously undermine their campaign.
An always-on DDoS protection system between the open web and servers is essential. Network security professionals need to embrace an extensible and adaptable position to detect both application and network attacks. The choice of defensive policy will be determined by the size of the enterprise and its resources. But as the number of high-profile campaign blackouts skyrockets, it’s worth reassessing expenditure and risk levels to combat these threats.
Ultimately, key political parties that cannot ensure that their campaign communication channels are continuously available, risk severely damaging their election campaigns – and may appear untrustworthy in the eyes of constituents. The key is to be prepared: the question is not if but when an attack will come. As we’ve seen in the last three years, cyber-attacks are now commonplace when nationwide elections or referendums are taking place.”