An online petition calling on the UK government to hold a second EU referendum has come under attack by internet trolls using automated 'bots' to add tens of thousands of false signatures to the poll.
The House of Commons Parliamentary Petitions committee is currently investigating the petition for fraudulent activity after being forced to remove 77,000 signatures entered from numerous locations outside the UK – including North Korea, Vatican City and Antarctica.
The petition, which currently has over 3.7 million digital signatures, quickly became the focus of attention on the notorious 4Chan messageboard (/pol/ - Politically Incorrect) with a number of commenters claiming to have used scripted computer programmes to automatically tamper with the petition system.
"I voted 33,000 times. Left a script running while I was taking a shower," wrote one member, as reported by the BBC. On Twitter, one commenter claimed: I personally signed over 22k times alone for North Korea."
Rik Ferguson, a cyber expert with security firm Trend Micro said: "It seems like a huge oversight for a website designed to be used by so many people to lack simple protection."
He continued: "With any online property that is designed for interaction, you need a mechanism in place to defeat automated means of adding content. 4chan is famous for this sort of mischief - and if websites don't have systems in place, they will get abused."
Indeed, it appears the petition website does not have such safeguards in place to block automated scripting programmes frequently used by online pranksters. On Twitter, the government department acknowledged the incident and said it would continue to monitor the site for "suspicious activity."
It added: "The petitions website has not been hacked. Fraudulent signatures have been and will continue to be removed, to ensure the site's integrity."
Previously, Helen Jones, chair of the petitions committee, said in a statement that it takes allegations of fraud "extremely seriously" but did not elaborate on any links to the 4chan website.
"People adding fraudulent signatures to this petition should know that they undermine the cause they pretend to support," she said. "The Government Digital Service is taking action to investigate and, where necessary, remove fraudulent signatures."
In any case, Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his resignation after the Brexit result was revealed, has already said no second vote will take place. On Thursday 23 June, the UK voted with a 52% to 48% split to leave the European Union in a move that has since shaken the political and financial system to its core.