A survey run by the KCL Rent Strike committee to collect student feedback on accommodation was targeted by a cyber-attack on 15 March between 6pm and 7:30 pm.
A bot corrupted data by generating 555 responses at intervals of up to 10 seconds, each rating the university 10/10 on every measure and declaring Wolfson House Apartments as the current residence.
The attack was discovered by the survey designer Dan Bisset, who interrogated the data when they found the number of responses far exceeded what they expected and discovered 75% of them to be fraudulent.
They closed the surveys pre-emptively but had received an adequate number of non-fraudulent responses by the time of the attack, so could salvage the data with “some very fancy arithmetic.”
As of now, KCL Rent Strike do not intend to try and investigate who executed the attack. Dan said that “I would have been in a much angrier, solution-finding situation [had the bot been more effective] …it was so glaringly obvious that it was an attack. All we had to do was look at the times.”
The survey was intended to investigate King’s management’s claim that the evidence of dissatisfaction among students in university accommodation skewed negatively because strikers were “only hearing the negative stories [and] the positives outweigh the negatives.”
The data collected, however, suggested this to not be the case. Dan told Roar that “on all fronts, when asked to rate the university out of ten, 70% [of students surveyed] rated it less than 5.”
The data is to be presented in full to KCLSU on 22 March in the morning, then to students via Instagram (@kcl_rentstrike) in the afternoon once the fraudulent responses are removed.
In a press release to Roar, the organisation said, “this attack on our research not only jeopardises our own integrity as a ‘for student, by student’ organisation, it also calls into question the motives behind the attack. Who wants to stifle the voices of angry students?”
Dan, however, was not phased. “I didn’t feel that…our campaign…was threatened in any way. I don’t feel discouraged. We’re still going to go into negotiations. We’re still going to keep our student body updated. We’re still going to try and represent our accommodation students as well as we can.”
“There is somebody out there that clearly doesn’t like the dissent amongst students and that’s something we’ve had for a while. We’ve had a huge amount of support from the vast majority of students but there have always been a few outliers who can’t see past their own experiences and don’t understand why the strike would have happened.”
They believed that, rather than the attack being a cause for worry, it may be a sign that the campaign is gaining influence. “Now that we’ve gained traction and leeway … it seems that the knives are coming out.”
Dan has been co-ordinating the rent-strike surveys with one other person since January and said that they were under a lot of pressure to co-ordinate the project, which involves over 1000 students. Words used for the attack included “annoying” and “just an inconvenience.”
“I’ve got better [things] to do than sifting through all of this. But it’s fine, we have a really great and really compelling set of data to present to the uni when we next see them so it’ll be interesting to see how they react to it.” Their intention is to continue producing surveys “depending on what management decide to be blind to.”
They were surprised to find that, although KCLSU cannot support them directly, they had been “actually quite supportive” following the attack. Roar were told that two Vice-Presidents had been facilitating negotiations with King’s management.
“The new slate, I think…seem to have a lot of the common goals that we have… which I think is kind of a testament to the general dissent amongst students.”
Dan did not know if they could reach out to anyone at a King’s level, given that KCL Rent Strike has status as no official affiliation with King’s. However, KCL Rent Strike are one of 50+ organisations “in a perpetual conversation with one another”, so they had the option of contacting another university’s group for support. They chose not to at this time because “it was something I could do myself.”
“If it ends up happening at a different university, at a different level, then I will bring it up and try to support in whatever way I can.”
“We will then investigate different routes to go down, such as contacting IT if this kind of behaviour happens again, but to be perfectly honest I don’t see it happening again. I hope it was just a one-time incident because we’ve run surveys in the past and it’s never happened before.”
KCL Rent Strike do not have a set date for when they expect to go back into negotiations with King’s management. Dan explained that, up until now, negotiations have been “friendly and cordial”. However, they “don’t plan on that continuing for much longer”
“They’re either going to listen or they’re not and they’re going to lose £600,000 in rent – it’s either one or the other.”
King’s came under fire this week for reintroducing rent pre-payments of £450 to secure rooms in its residences for 2021/22. King’s accommodation has been criticised throughout the year for issues ranging from its booking system to its needing to evacuate students from Champion Hill over fire safety concerns in January.