The Conservative Party of Canada’s official website is likely either under attack or site administrators are worried about one, according to one security expert.
Users visiting Conservative.ca over the last several days may have been greeted by an unusual message.
A blank white page reading “Checking your browser before accessing Conservative.ca. This process is automatic. Your browser will redirect to your requested content shortly,” is displayed for about five seconds and then redirects to the normal webpage.
Carlisle Adams, a computer science professor at the University of Ottawa, said he’s never seen a message like the one on the Conservative page, but suspects it’s either in reaction to or trying to prevent something known as a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack.
A DDoS attack is a malicious attempt to interrupt the availability of a website by flooding it with often thousands of requests by unique IP addresses in order to overwhelm the servers.
“You’re basically trying to busy out the server so no one else gets access to the site, so you’re denying that service to the rest of the world,” Adams explained.
Adams said he’s only ever seen these sorts of security features implemented as a reaction to an ongoing attack, but said it’s not implausible that the party might have activated the service as a preventative measure.
“It might be the case that because we’re in the middle of an election campaign that they’re worried about the possibility of being under attack, so they’re taking extra precaution,” Adams said. “It seems very curious.”
The company linked at the bottom of the message is CloudFlare, a tool for website administrators that offers a number of features including DDoS protection.
According to CloudFlare’s website, users will see a message like the one displayed on Conservative.ca only when the site’s owner has activated something called I’m Under Attack mode, a specific security level set up for when a site is under DDoS attack. CloudFlare describes it as an additional layer of protection to stop potentially malicious HTTP traffic from being passed to the server.
“This pause that you’re getting is basically checking your IP address and checking your browser to make sure you’re not on a list of known machines that are trying to do denial of service attacks,” Adams said.
“Anytime you suspect you might be under attack, you monitor where all those requests are coming from and you might put those IP addresses on a blacklist, and any more requests that come from that source you just ignore them instead of trying to process them.”
The Chronicle Herald has asked the Conservative party if the site has been attacked but has not yet received a response.
Adams said DDoS attacks are fairly common.
“Anyone who just for fun or for any other motivation wants to take a website out of commission, (a DDoS attack) is the way to do it,” he said.
Political party and government websites are common targets of hacker activist groups. Members of the group Anonymous launched an attack on a number of Canadian political websites this past Canada Day in protest of the controversial Bill C-51. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s sites were among those targeted.
Member of Anonymous generally publicize their attacks on Twitter feeds associated with the group. There have been no recent indications of ongoing attacks or threats of attacks on the Conservative website.