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French elections: political cyber attacks and Internet traffic shifts

07/08/2024

7 min read

This post is also available in Français.

French elections: political cyber attacks and Internet traffic shifts

The 2024 French legislative election runoff on July 7 yielded surprising results compared to the first round on June 30, with the New Popular Front (NPF) gaining the most seats, followed by French President Macron’s Ensemble, and the National Rally. Coalition negotiations will follow. In this post, we examine the ongoing online attacks against French political parties and how initial election predictions at 20:00 local time led to a noticeable drop in France’s Internet traffic.

This blog post is part of a series tracking the numerous elections of 2024. We have covered elections in South Africa, India, Iceland, Mexico, the European Union, the UK and also the 2024 US presidential debate. We also continuously update our election report on Cloudflare Radar.

Let’s start with the attacks, and then move on to the Internet traffic trends.

Political parties under attack

As we highlighted last week, the first round of the French elections saw specific DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks targeting French political party websites. While online attacks are common and not always election-related, recent activities in France, the Netherlands, and the UK confirm that DDoS attacks frequently target political parties during election periods.

Two French political parties were attacked shortly before the first round of elections, and a third party was targeted on June 30. This third party, indicated in green on the chart below, faced attacks on the evening of June 29. Several attempts were thwarted by Cloudflare throughout election day, from 10:00 to 23:00 UTC (12:00 to 01:00 local time). The most intense attack occurred at 19:00 UTC (21:00 local time), reaching nearly 40,000 requests per second, with a total of 620 million DDoS requests recorded on that day (June 29).

Our data indicates that the most significant attack Cloudflare intercepted targeted a party shown in yellow on the chart above. The party had already been attacked on June 23, 2024, and this subsequent attack happened on July 3 at 21:36 UTC (23:36 local time), lasting four minutes and peaking at 151,000 requests per second (rps), making it the second-largest attack we’ve observed on political parties recently. This was comparable in intensity and duration to another attack on a UK political party right after their election.

On the runoff election day, July 7, the party represented by the blue line was again a target, having been attacked previously on June 24, 27, and 29. The most severe of these occurred on June 27, with attacks reaching 118,000 rps during a day that totaled 610 million daily DDoS requests. On July 7, the attacks resumed, with the first starting at 09:55 UTC (11:55 local time) and continuing sporadically until 23:18 UTC (01:18 local time on July 8). The peak of these attacks came at 11:40 UTC (13:40 local time), reaching 96,000 rps.

While these rates may seem small to Cloudflare, they can be devastating for websites not well-protected against such high levels of traffic. DDoS attacks not only overwhelm systems but also serve, if successful, as a distraction for IT teams while attackers attempt other types of breaches.

Exit polls came with a 20:00 Internet traffic dip

Each election brings its own unique circumstances. For instance, the UK’s snap election took place on Thursday, July 4, 2024, aligning with Britain’s tradition of weekday elections. In contrast, France and many other countries hold elections on weekends, typically Sundays.

During the first round of the French elections on June 30, morning traffic was lower than the previous week and rose in the afternoon. The runoff, a week later, displayed a different pattern. Morning traffic remained stable compared to June 30, but it saw a significant decrease in the afternoon, especially after 17:30 local time. Polling stations in major cities closed at 20:00. At this time, TV media began broadcasting the first results, causing a 16% drop in traffic compared to the previous week. This trend, where traffic dips as initial results are announced, is also seen in other elections, like the UK’s.

Traffic shifts during voting day, compared to the previous week, are more revealing when viewed in detail. The map and table below summarize the traffic changes observed at the state level within France, when voting closed and initial results predictions were revealed on TV at around 20:00 local time. This was the moment when, from Cloudflare’s data perspective, attention was diverted from online use.

(Source: Cloudflare; created with Datawrapper)
(Source: Cloudflare; created with Datawrapper)

The table below shows the drops in traffic on July 7, at 20:00 local time, compared to the previous week.

State Drop in traffic (%)
Bourgogne-Franche-Comté -19%
Grand Est -19%
Brittany -15%
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes -15%
Corsica -14%
Occitanie -11%
Nouvelle-Aquitaine -11%
Normandy -10%
Île-de-France -10%
Hauts-de-France -9%
Pays de la Loire -8%
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur -7%
Centre-Val de Loire -6%

On election day in France, Internet traffic decreased most significantly in the regions of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and Grand Est, both in the eastern part of the country and both experiencing a 19% drop. When comparing these regions to the Île-de-France region, where Paris is located, we see a smaller traffic decrease, at 10%. In the south, in regions like Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the drop was even less pronounced, at 7%.

Mobile device usage

Also notable was the increase in mobile device request traffic share during both election days, driving the share to levels higher than usual. Over the past month, mobile device traffic share on Sundays typically ranged from 53% to 54%. However, it rose to 57% on the first election day, June 30, and increased further to 58% on the runoff day, July 7, 2024. Mobile device traffic share was especially elevated from 11:00 to 22:00 local time on these days.

Switching focus to domain trends, our 1.1.1.1 resolver DNS data reveals a targeted impact from the French elections, allowing for a comparison between the two election days. Analyzing French news media outlets, DNS traffic in France was significantly higher on the first election day, June 30, with a 250% increase at 20:00 local time compared to the previous week. This was 6% higher than on the runoff day, July 7.

For French TV domains, the situation reversed during the runoff on July 7, showing 31% more DNS traffic at 20:00 local time than in the first round. On June 30, DNS traffic at that time was already 274% higher than the previous week, but the increase on July 7 was even more significant, at 391% compared to June 23, 2024—the Sunday before the two election days.

For microblogging social media in France, traffic was higher during the two election days, peaking on the first round. At the close of voting polls at 20:00 local time on June 30, traffic surged 38% compared to June 23, 2024. On July 7, runoff day, traffic increased by 32% at 20:00 local time compared to June 23, but was 4% lower than on June 30.​

Conclusion: keeping track of elections

In France, more attention was diverted from the Internet during the decisive runoff election day than in the first round, with a noticeable dip in traffic when TV stations announced predicted results at 20:00 local time.

If you want to follow more trends and insights about the Internet and elections in particular, you can check Cloudflare Radar, and more specifically our new 2024 Elections Insights report, which will be updated as elections take place throughout the year.

Since last week, we’ve updated our trends to include last-minute voting during the elections in Iran on June 28, 2024, and the suspension of mobile Internet in Mauritania following protests after the presidential elections on June 29, 2024, and the UK election.

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ElectionsCloudflare RadarFranceInternet TrafficTrendsElection SecurityDDoSAttacks

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João Tomé|@emot
Cloudflare|@cloudflare

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