"HOSTILE actors" hacked the Electoral Commission (EC) for over a year and gained access to details of tens of millions of voters, it has been revealed. 

The elections watchdog revealed on Tuesday it had been targeted in a cyber attack but it was “not able to know conclusively” what information was accessed.

The EC insisted that as elections in the UK are largely paper-based it would be “very hard” for hackers to influence the outcome of a vote, but apologised for the breach in its systems. 

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The breach was identified in October 2022, but the hackers had first gained access to the system in August 2021.

The registers accessed included information on those who in the UK were registered to vote between 2014 and 2022, including names and addresses, as well as the names of those registered as overseas voters.

The hackers were able to access reference copies of electoral registers, held by the Electoral Commission for research purposes and to enable permissibility checks on political donations.

The commission’s email system was also accessible during the attack.

The National: It is not clear what data unidentified 'hostile actors' had access toIt is not clear what data unidentified 'hostile actors' had access to

Shaun McNally, EC chief executive, said: “The UK’s democratic process is significantly dispersed and key aspects of it remain based on paper documentation and counting.

“This means it would be very hard to use a cyber attack to influence the process. Nevertheless, the successful attack on the Electoral Commission highlights that organisations involved in elections remain a target, and need to remain vigilant to the risks to processes around our elections.”

McNally admitted that while the EC knows which systems were accessible to hackers, they could not define “conclusively” which files may or may not have been accessed.

“We regret that sufficient protections were not in place to prevent this cyber attack,” he said.

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“Since identifying it we have taken significant steps, with the support of specialists, to improve the security, resilience, and reliability of our IT systems.

“We know which systems were accessible to the hostile actors, but are not able to know conclusively what files may or may not have been accessed.

“While the data contained in the electoral registers is limited, and much of it is already in the public domain, we understand the concern that may have been caused by the registers potentially being accessed and apologise to those affected.”

The register for each year holds the details of around 40 million individuals, which were accessible to the hostile actors, although this includes people on the open registers, whose information is already in the public domain.

The National Cyber Security Centre said it had provided the commission with expert advice and support.

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A spokeperson said: “Defending the UK’s democratic processes is a priority for the NCSC and we provide a range of guidance to help strengthen the cyber resilience of our electoral systems.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it was looking into the incident.

“We recognise this news may cause alarm to those who are worried they may be affected and we want to reassure the public that we are investigating as a matter of urgency,” a spokesperson said.

“In the meantime, if anyone is concerned about how their data has been handled, they should get in touch with the ICO or check our website for advice and support.”