TVB: Hacking might cause Miss HK voting system failure

Unusual attempts to access the Miss Hong Kong voting system were found in its initial investigation, TVB said in a press conference on Monday.

Thousands of viewers were disappointed as they were unable to vote online for their favorite contestant to become Miss Hong Kong 2012—also the 40th Miss Hong Kong since the pageant’s inception—during a designated 10-minute voting slot during the program. It’s the first time in Hong Kong’s beauty contest history that the public was invited to vote online for the champion among the three finalists given the highest scores by a panel of adjudicators.

"There was an unusual high volume of traffic, and we don't rule out the possibility that hacking activities were involved," said Cheong Skin Keong, general manager, Broadcasting, TVB. "It might be the reason why voting was disrupted."

Computerworld Hong Kong contacted Microsoft Hong Kong that provides its Windows Azure technology behind the TV station’s TVB fun—an interactive app for smartphone users to participate in games during TV programs—and is believed to power the Miss Hong Kong voting system with the same technology.

Microsoft Hong Kong has not replied with comments by press time, though the firm said it would respond by day-end of Monday. Hong Kong-headquartered Cherrypicks- the TVB fun and Miss Hong Kong mobile voting app builder--hasn’t provided any comments either.

TVB said it involved 200,000 people to cast votes simultaneously in its test run of the system despite its estimate of 500,000 participants. The TV station told local Chinese daily Ming Pao earlier on Monday that 800,000 to one million participants tried to vote for the champion at the same time Sunday night, but insisted that the number of people trying to vote is not known because of the system failure later at the press conference. 

TVB’s still investigating the incident and will release findings at a later stage, the firm noted.

Charles Mok, founding chairman of Internet Society Hong Kong and a Legco IT seat contestant, said TVB obviously underestimated public participation. “Without further details of the incident, it’s hard to say for sure [what’d make TVB’s voting system work when there are lots of participants],” said Mok. “But in general terms, TVB might need better contingency and business continuity planning.”

Asked if the TVB incident will leave a negative impact on cloud adoption in Hong Kong, Mok said, “The impact should be minimal as this incident should have more to do with a firm’s planning and execution rather than problems with cloud computing as a technology.”

“Cloud computing is the only answer to any firms with a plan to launch a similar application that invites a huge amount of traffic within a short period of time,” Mok noted. “But they need to do it in a well-planned way.”

Samson Tam, another Legco IT seat contestant, hasn't replied to Computerworld Hong Kong's inquiry.