Ahead of National Assembly election, Vietnamese authorities resort to “ballot stuffing” on independent platform for political expression

May 22, 2016

On the eve of the National Assembly elections in Vietnam, state-sponsored hackers fail to shut down the Lá Phiếu (Ballot) app. Through a brute force attack, regime hackers attempted to silence the platform for political expression.

Available on Google Play, “Lá Phiếu” enables smartphone users to freely express their political views ahead of Vietnam’s National Assembly elections. “Lá Phiếu” includes the non-party candidates who were delisted during the Communist Party-ran nomination process and allows smartphone users to cast their “vote” among all candidates—as well as to cast a blank ballot to register their rejection of the rubber stamp election. As of May 20th, 3,000 Vietnamese residents had voted early through the app with over 50% casting “blank” ballots.

DDoS attack and ballot stuffing
On the afternoon of May 21st, hackers initiated a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack at the ISP level, attempting to sideline “Lá Phiếu.” With the server holding up to the DDoS attack, botnets were launched to spam the voting process.

Within hours, the number of fake votes on the app for party candidates exceeded 700,000 with no signs of stopping. According to “Lá Phiếu” organizers, the dummy votes will be discarded in the final tally in order to provide a comprehensive look at public sentiment. With the help of the Guardian Project, circumvention had been integrated into the app which mitigated the threat of government blockage. Users are still able to download and use the app.

Wave of censorship
Also within recent days, ANTV (the Ministry of Public Security’s television channel) aired a segment blasting calls to boycott or protest the election. ANTV broadcasted footage of “Lá Phiếu” and referred to the mobile app as a subversive effort to “sabotage” the upcoming election.

The attempt by Vietnamese government authorities to shut down “Lá Phiếu” app follows a renewed censorship campaign in recent weeks—as thousands of Vietnamese have taken to the streets to protest government ineptitude following an environmental catastrophe.

Vietnamese internet users have reported intermittent blocks of Facebook. Additionally, text messages containing certain words with political significance have been undelivered. Young Vietnamese have responded to the latest filtering with witty graphics and comments online.

By the end of today, Vietnamese authorities will announce the election results for the 14th National Assembly. Through utilizing the “Lá Phiếu” app, boycotting the official election, and posting pictures of torn up ballots, thousands of Vietnamese have registered their dissent against the Communist Party’s election.

Launched on May 3rd, “Lá Phiếu” app is supported by local Vietnamese organizations including The People’s Intellect, Brotherhood for Democracy, Hoang Sa FC, and Viet Tan. The organizers will issue a fuller analysis at the conclusion of the “Lá Phiếu” project.