Online version of ‘National Consultation’ wide open to abuse

May 3, 2017

MTI Photo: Szigetváry Zsolt

While the Hungarian government has been proudly releasing estimates of how many Hungarian citizens have responded to its latest “Let’s Stop Brussels” National Consultation, no measures are in place to verify that respondents who fill out the questionnaire’s online version aren’t doing so numerous times, or that they are Hungarian citizens at all.

Latest government claims indicate that some 608,000 questionnaires have been returned by mail thus far, out of a total of more than 8 million mailed to every voting-age Hungarian citizen. The office of the Prime Minister told index.hu that around 62,000 have filled out the questionnaire online.

But the website of the National Consultation is wide open to abuse: anyone can easily enter false data into the “authentication” fields meant to confirm the identity of the respondent.

The page requests only a name, age, and email address from respondents, making it easy to falsify data and respond as many times as desired in what Index called “an anonymous quiz.” The page does not possess even basic security features, such as requiring an email authentication, or limits on how many times a given IP address can fill out the survey. As Index.hu put it, “The National Consultation addressed to Hungarian people can be filled out on the internet by a little boy in Kazakhstan as well. If he feels like it, a thousand times one after the other.”

Hungarian media, for nearly a month, has repeatedly questioned the Prime Minister’s cabinet office about how the ministry is ensuring that such online abuse does not take place, but received no response. Finally, after Index published an article Wednesday on the issue, the cabinet office told the daily online that “An email address can only be used once to complete the questionnaire, which serves as an authentication.”

But this does not address the issue that an email address, which according to the government is enough to authenticate a person’s identity, does not even have to exist in order to complete the form and boost the numbers the government uses to justify its policy decisions.

The consultation, which has recently been harshly criticized in the European Parliament, the European Commission, and Fidesz’s own parliamentary group the European People’s Party, consists of six questions regarding the Hungarian government’s positions toward the EU, or “Brussels” as it is referred to in the questionnaire. The questions, criticized by social scientists and research experts as misleading and “political mobilization concealed as public opinion research,” were refuted point by point in a fact-check document released by the European Commission.

The consultation’s online version was recently swept up in another scandal when news site 444.hu discovered a suspicious line of code in the site’s infrastructure which forwarded the personal information of respondents to Russian servers, and logged their keystrokes on the consultation’s webpage. The owner of the code, Russian IT firm Yandex, has been implicated in providing personal information to Russia’s state security service, the FSB. The code was quickly taken off the National Consultation website after the story broke.