So, something pretty big happened in Canadian politics yesterday.
For you Yankees, the short-form of Canadian politics is: we have multiple political parties, not just two. We have the right-wing Conservatives, who are like (in so many ways) your Republicans; we have the centrist Liberals, who are like your Democrats; and we have the NDP, who are a left-wing party unlike anything you’ve seen in America for forty years. We also have the Greens, and several far-left, far-right and far-loon parties, depending on where you are. Each of them elects a party leader, and if that party gets the most seats in the House of Commons, their party leader is made Prime Minister. The party leader of the next biggest party is the Leader of the Loyal Opposition.
Canada lost a great statesman in the long-time leader of the NDP, Jack Layton, when he succumbed to cancer. The NDP just held the election for the new leader, doing it for the very first time entirely online through Spanish company Scytl, who evidently have a sterling record for security in electronic elections.
It turns out, though, that distributing the load for the four tiers of the ballot… well, less so.
The CBC reports:
The party said earlier in the day it was the subject of an outside attack on its online voting system, provided by Spanish company Scytl.
The problem Saturday night was the same, the party president told Radio-Canada. Rebecca Blaikie said the site is receiving more traffic than if all 131,000 members were trying to vote at same time. More than 58,000 members voted in advance, leaving about 11,000 people voting Saturday, online or at terminals set up at a Toronto convention centre.
It strikes me as grossly unlikely that Scytl would be unable to handle that many users at a time — our own server would probably choke on 11,000 simultaneous connections, but any smart and load-balanced setup would certainly not cause these kinds of issues. It would take a much, much higher number of connections-per-second to hose a server the way it did; this indicates to me that some outside influences were indeed launching botnet or malformed packet attacks of some description. What puts a crimp in this analysis is this reporting, though:
They may be able to identify the source of the attack, which jammed the system and created delays that plagued voting for the party’s leadership, Blaikie said earlier Saturday.
The party has the IP addresses suspected in the online attack, she said. An IP address is a number assigned to an internet connection that may be able to point the party to the perpetrator.
Senior party official Brad Lavigne said the system was not hacked and the integrity of votes cast was not compromised. But the attack delayed third-round voting when the system had to be restarted, he said.
Having the IPs for hundreds of bots in a botnet wouldn’t necessarily give you the mastermind, though. A smart mastermind would probably keep his own computer off the botnet, lest he get shut down accidentally by a zealous ISP, and have no way to contact that botnet to end the attack. If this IP information actually stands a chance of telling people who was responsible, it might be because of an attempted hack attack which, if Huffington Post’s reporting is to be trusted, might have happened:
“The system has not been compromised,” said Brad Lavigne, a former party national director who was dispatched to explain the problem to reporters.
“The system was not hacked. It was never even close to being hacked.”
Lavigne said someone outside the party tried to get access to the system, triggering alarms that caused the system to shut down.
“The analogy that can be used is that somebody was trying to break into our house and the alarm went off and the robbers were scared away.”
If someone tried to hack the system somehow, and that caused the server to shut down in response, that’s a completely different animal than what the rest of the narrative is claiming, e.g. a straight DDoS — that a distributed attack was committed, with many many dummy connections hitting the server so legitimate traffic is jammed and can’t be served.
I really hope more information is forthcoming. I strongly suspect it’s a simple DDoS and HuffPo is wrong, but I don’t know how the NDP could possibly narrow it down to specific IPs without those IPs having done something a little more interesting than being part of a botnet.
Through all this, Thomas Mulcair was elected the new Leader of the Opposition. He’s apparently been very well received by the NDP. Since the common (Conservative) narrative that the NDP is “not to be trusted at the helm” has largely crumbled, and since Harper’s intent on ramming as many odious changes down Canadians’ throats as humanly possible before he has to hit the skids, we may be looking at our new Prime Minister.
I honestly hope he can live up to Jack’s standards. Them’s some big shoes to fill. He’ll have plenty of time to break them in though, since I fully expect Harper will stall as long as humanly possible before calling an election. So maybe 2016.