Fears of Russian influence in Tory race for No10: GCHQ warns hackers could target online vote as experts say some ‘Conservatives Abroad’ members may be stooges poised to swing election
- The Battle for No 10 continues with a warning hackers could strike leaders vote
- Russia could be the most likely to strike, given current conflict in Ukraine
- Fears there could be a plot to install a weak leader to wreck UK’s prospects
- Read more about the Tory Battle for No 10 on MailOnline’s liveblog here
Russia could have stooges ready to tip the balance of the Tory leadership race if it goes to an online vote, a top cyber expert has warned – with GCHQ airing fears of an online strike.
Peter Ryan, a professor of applied security at the University of Luxembourg, said little is known about the Conservative Party membership.
Figures vary for how many members there are, with 180,000 to 200,000 usually given as estimates.
The party’s website has a membership option called ‘Conservatives Abroad’, which says ‘anyone living anywhere in the world is welcome to join Conservatives Abroad from just £25 per year’.
It adds: ‘As an overseas member, you are entitled to all the benefits of party membership, including participation in the Conservative Policy Forum, attendance at party conferences and a vote in the election of the party leader.’
While many overseas Tory voters may be legitimate UK citizens living overseas, others could be Russian stooges, Prof Ryan said.
There are fears Russia could seek to influence the leadership vote in some way in cyber strike
Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt are both strong candidates for the Tory leadership race
‘They are not prepared to say anything about their membership,’ he said.
‘It seems to be easy to register as a non-UK voter.
‘We don’t know that much about the electorate that are putting in place the leader of a G7 country. There could be a lot of people overseas that are not even UK citizens.
‘For all we know Russia could have signed up a significant number of stooges.
Partygate-shamed former Prime Minister Boris Johnson could also be about to run again
Shadowy hackers in Russia with access to cutting edge tech could target the leadership race
Truss is shortest serving PM ever
Liz Truss is now the shortest serving prime minister in British history.
She clocked up 44 full days in the role – a long way behind the next shortest premiership, that of Tory statesman George Canning, who spent 118 full days as PM in 1827 before dying in office from ill health.
Ms Truss was to have overtaken this number of days on January 3 2023.
But instead she will fall short by more than two months, with the next prime minister due to be elected within the next week.
Some PMs have had shorter terms, but gone on to take charge in No10 again.
‘The margin last time was low – it would not take much to swing it.’
Online voting is ‘always vulnerable’ to hacking, ‘especially by state attackers’, Prof Ryan added.
In the previous Tory leadership race, party members were initially told they could vote by post and amend their decision online until the system was reformed in early August.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, said the process was vulnerable to interference, forcing the party to delay sending out ballot slips.
Those opting to cast their vote online had to submit a single-use code and answer security questions.
Commenting on the prospects of another online vote, the NCSC said it continues to advise the Conservative Party.
‘Defending UK democratic and electoral processes is a priority for the NCSC and we work closely with all parliamentary political parties, local authorities and MPs to provide cyber security guidance and support,’ a spokesman said.
‘As the UK’s national technical authority for cyber security, we continue to provide advice to the Conservative Party, including on security considerations for online leadership voting.’
The Conservative Party was contacted for comment.
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