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‘Poll machines not hack-proof’

CONTRARY to the claim of the company that supplied them, the vote-counting machines that the Commission on Elections will use in the May 9 polls are prone to hacking and manipulation, a telecommunications engineer said Saturday.

Dr. Pelagio Battung Jr., a telecommunications engineer who served as transportation and communication undersecretary during the Ramos administration, said the poll body should be concerned with the VCM’s algorithms rather than their source code.

“Source code? There’s nothing there,” Battung said, adding that the Comelec should have asked the political parties involved in the election to inspect and test the VCM’s algorithm to verify the claim of Comelec supplier Smartmatic-TIM that the machines are not hackable.

“If they will show the algorithm, IT experts of the different political parties can inspect and test the algorithm and verify if that claim is true,” said Battung. I’m very sure the algorithm of the [VCMs] are different from that of the [precinct-count optical scanners].” 

Road show. In this file photo,  workers of the Commission on Elections show how sample vote-counting machines work during a demonstration at the Pope Pius XII Center conference hall in Paco, Manila. LINO SANTOS

He raised his doubts about the VCMs because the Comelec will also be using refurbished PCOS machines that were used in the May 19, 2013 elections when some PCOS machines refused to read the names of some candidates. 

“You recognize some of the names and one of the name was not recognized. That only shows that PCOS machine has a memory,” Battung said.

“How many candidates in the national elections on vice president has the letter M? If the PCOS really carries a memory, I can transverse the candidates with M or the candidates with B from the president up to senator and transfer it to the votes of the higher up,” Battung added.

Battung, however, conceded there may not be enough time for political parties to send in their IT experts to verify the claim of Smartmatic.

“We lack time now. If we insist on doing that, we might not have elections. It’s better to have an election. We’ll talk about that later,” Battung said.

Battung’s doubts reflected those of source code reviewer Dr. Pablo Manalastas,  a retired professor of the Ateneo de Manila University Department of Information Systems and Computer Science, who claimed that while the source code is secure, it can still be hacked.

Manalastas told a congressional oversight committee that he cannot discount the possibility of vote rigging and electoral cheating in this year’s general elections.

“They put enough security to make it hard for outsiders to use the system to cheat. But, if they want to cheat, they can do that,” Manalastas told lawmakers.

“The system is secure, but hacking the system can be done through the cooperation of people who are in charge of the data system and who have physical control of machines. It is possible to cheat with a lot of help from Comelec and Smartmatic,” Manalastas said.

But Smartmatic technology manager Marlon Garcia disputed Manalastas’ claim and claimed no one has access to all the different components of the system.

“There is no way to go inside. There is no way for somebody to manipulate the machines or go into the system and favor a particular candidate,” said Garcia, adding that not even Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista has full access to the system.

Meanwhile, Smartmatic president Cesar Flores disputed Bautista’s claim that Smartmatic can be held liable for the delay caused by the omission of the People’s Reform Party of presidential aspirant Senator Miriam Santiago in the test ballots printed recently.

Flores stressed that the Commission on Election is responsible in checking “each and every” ballots before the supplier proceed with the printing.

“Ultimately, Comelec has the responsibility to checking each and every one of those ballot faces before proceeding with printing,” Flores said.

 On Feb. 15, the Comelec officially started printing at least 57 million official ballots for Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, including at least 1.6 million overseas absentee voters.

However, the printing was temporarily stopped on Feb. 16 due to errors in the ballot where the Comelec has forgot to indicate Santiago’s political party.

Flores said it is normal in every election to have several revisions and correction before it finally implemented.

“It’s normal in every election to have several iterations of the different files until a final approved version is issued,” Flores said.

“As you know, there is not just one ballot face but many different ones. What happens is that Comelec sends data about candidates and precincts over to Smartmatic, which then generates the different ballot faces,” Flores said.

Flores stressed that the data about the candidates and precincts, as assumed, is already checked and finalized by the Comelec and the detection of the error only proves that the mechanism is working perfectly.

“This is how the mistake was detected and corrected in time. Far from being a cause for concern, this proves that the safety mechanisms are working perfectly,”  said Flores, who assured Smartmatic and the National Printing Office can meet the April 25 deadline.

Topics: Poll machines , Comelec
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