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Voting for next Prime Minister delayed by ‘hacking threat’ that could ‘change ballot results’

VOTING for the next Prime Minister has been delayed after warnings that cyber hackers could change ballot results.

As a result, the Conservative Party have abandoned plans to allow members to change their vote for later in the contest because of the hacking fears.

Voting for the next Prime Minister has been delayed after warnings that cyber hackers could change ballot results

Voting for the next Prime Minister has been delayed after warnings that cyber hackers could change ballot resultsCredit: Reuters

The decision was taken after advice from the National Cyber Security Centre, part of the UK’s GCHQ listening post.

GCHQ warned that the hacking threat could see people’s ballots being changed in the hunt for Boris Johnson’s successor, reports The Telegraph.

Concerns were raised that nefarious actors could change the votes of scores of party members and cause chaos to the democratic process.

Postal ballots have still yet to be issued to the around 160,000 Tory members who will pick the next PM.

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The ballots had been due to be sent out from Monday, but members have now been told they could arrive as late as Aug 11.

Reports say there was no specific threat from a hostile state, with advice being more general and about the voting process and its vulnerabilities.

A National Cyber Security Centre spokesman said: “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.

“As you would expect from the UK’s national cyber security authority, we provided advice to the Conservative Party on security considerations for online leadership voting.”

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Tory members were informed about the delay by the party on Tuesday night. No reason for the specific security concerns was given.

One part of the message seen reads: “Your ballot is now on the way – but it will arrive with you a little later than we originally said. Please do not worry.

“This is because we have taken some time to add some additional security to our ballot process, which has delayed us slightly.”

The need for a change to the voting process on security grounds will leave many at Conservative Party headquarters red faced.

Party chiefs are likely to face further questions about the gravity of the warnings issued by the National Cyber Security Centre and whether they are confident that the new process is secure.

As of now, the political impact of the delay remains unclear.

Some of Mr Sunak’s allies also believe early voting would benefit Ms Truss’s campaign. The result is announced on Sep 5.

Rishi Sunak currently trails Liz Truss in Tory membership polls, with a new YouGov survey giving her the backing of 60 per cent while he is on 26 per cent.

The Foreign Secretary and ex-Chancellor have spent the past few weeks touring Britain, making dozens of policy pledges designed to woo members along the way.

With just five weeks of the contest left to go, underdog Rishi has ramped up attacks on frontrunner Ms Truss by branding her a “Remainer”.

Mr Sunak and Ms Truss both met again on Monday night for the second of 16 Tory leadership hustings in Exeter.

Under the original voting plan, Tory members were to be issued with a postal ballot with a specific code.

Members could then vote by post or – for the first time in a Tory leadership race – online, which remains the same.

However, members were to be allowed to change their vote later in the race, but this has now been scrapped.

The original process left open the possibility that cyber hackers could change a large number of votes online near the end of the contest.

Similarly, someone who voted by post and uploaded a picture of their ballot could be vulnerable to their vote being changed online.

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Another line in the message to members read: “It is an offence to vote more than once – any member found to have voted more than once will have their party membership withdrawn.”

Under the new system, each member’s unique code will be deactivated once they vote, meaning they cannot change their decision.