Security increased after second EU referendum petition was marred by fraudsters


The UK Government petitions website has seen its security boosted after thousands of suspected fake names were added to a petition calling for a fresh EU referendum.

And apparently, fraudulent petition-signing isn't that hard to do.

Authorities were forced to step in at the weekend after it emerged that tens of thousands of names may have been fraudulently added to the petition calling for a second referendum on Britain's EU membership. The petition has now passed three million signatures, but 77,000 were removed after claims that some of the names were not real.

The petition calling for a new EU referendum reaches 3 million

Steve Lord, security consultant and researcher at Mandalorian Security Services, told the Press Association that within a matter of minutes he was able to produce a code that allowed him to automatically add multiple signatures to a petition he had created.

"In total the effort required was about five minutes from start to finish, including creating the petition.

"This shows the challenges any online petition site faces. Trying to plug all the holes is as hard as trying to plug holes in a real-life paper petition."

And the people who may (or may not) be responsible are pretty happy to boast about it with commenters on the message board 4chan claiming that they had managed to manipulate the site using "bots" - software applications that can automate web scripts.

Potential culprits took to 4chan to talk about their skills.

But the petitions site now appears to have added additional layers of security, Lord said, noting that it blocks throwaway domains.

He said the ease with which such codes can be produced and adapted makes it difficult for authorities to prevent manipulation.

Mr Lord added: "For the petitions site, they're probably better off setting a policy on what will be accepted, allowing submissions that don't meet that policy through but then silently dropping them."

He said the measure would prevent fraudsters getting feedback from the service to show whether or not their attempt has worked.

Fighting off fraudulent petitioners is not an easy task.

But no matter how many people - real or fake - sign the petition, Downing Street has said that a second referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union is "not remotely on the cards".

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokeswoman said that last Thursday's vote, which produced a 52%-48% majority for Brexit, was "decisive" and that the Government's focus was on delivering on it.