Two local men have been arrested after an online referendum organised by Hong Kong university to poll citizens on their choice of chief executive was disabled in an apparent denial of service attack.
Broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported that the men, aged 17 and 28, were arrested at the weekend after the online poll was disrupted for a large part of Friday and some of Saturday.
Hong Kong university’s Public Opinion Program set up the 'Civic Referendum Project' because people who live in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China are not given the power to vote directly for their CEO – effectively the head of the Hong Kong government.
Instead a pre-selected 1,200-strong Election Committee full of pro-Beijing businessmen is given the task, a fact that is angering a growing number of democracy-hungry locals, especially given that this year’s candidates were universally unpopular and tainted with scandal.
AFP reported that Hong Kong uni’s back-end systems buckled under the huge volume of traffic.
The system has been very busy," Robert Chung, director of the university's program, apparently told reporters. "We suspect it is under systematic attack as there are more than one million clicks on our system every second."
Chung was reportedly reticent about the potential motive for the attack but it is well known that the Chinese authorities are not a massive fan of free speech and probably viewed the referendum as undermining the result of the real vote - the outcome of which Beijing basically controls.
In any case it has always been nigh on impossible to directly link the Chinese government with specific cyber attacks, although it is widely suspected that it allows so-called patriotic hackers and even more obvious cyber criminals to commit offences as long as they are in the national interest.
A report by US defence contractor Northropp Grumman earlier this month alleged that China’s military relies on academia and the commercial IT sector to boost its R&D efforts in information warfare.
In the end only around 220,000 Hong Kong-ers were able to take part in the poll out of a population of seven million, with a majority of over 50 per cent spoiling their papers to signify that they supported ‘none of the above’ candidates.
Votes could be cast online, via SMS or a smartphone app, as well as in several polling stations in the region. ®