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Hackers cash in on fears about PCOS

Some of the most cash-rich people these days, I’ve been told, are those who claim to have mastered the art of hacking into the voting machines and computer servers sold, operated and maintained by Smartmatic. But not everyone who says that he has a group that can hack into Smartmatic’s precinct count optical scan machines and servers, which will be used by the Commission on Elections for the second consecutive national election this May after making their debut in 2010, is raking it in. It may be true, as re-electionist Senator Alan Peter Cayetano says, that some people have been approaching politicians and offering the unique service of guaranteeing victory in the coming elections through the manipulation of the high-tech voting system, for a hefty price. These are not the people making the big bucks. The high-priced hackers do not make offer to politicians. The pols seek them out, mainly because they already offered the same service—at a much more affordable price—three years ago. In other words, the politicians already know these hackers from 2010, when automated elections were new and the latter had no track record to speak of. Most of the politicians approached back then declined to use the untried services of the hackers, probably because they considered the expense a waste of campaign funds. Among those who turned down the offer of the 2010 hackers are a major presidential candidate and a highly-touted mayoralty bet in Metro Manila. Both lost badly—and later admitted that they may have been wrong not to buy some insurance in the form of hiring the hackers. These two prominent politicians, as well as others approached three years ago by the hackers, have now become the best “endorsers” of the unique service. Now, like the foreign investors that President Noynoy Aquino says are lining up to put money in the Philippines, politicians are seeking out these 2010 computer geniuses—who don’t have to look for “clients” anymore. Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes, of course, insists that there is no way that Smartmatic’s PCOS machines and servers can be manipulated by hackers. But Brillantes, who up to now does not impress anyone that he even understands Smartmatic’s automated voting system at all, is being ignored by the politicians who believe that they were victims of “hocus PCOS” in 2010—and who have vowed that they will not be victimized again. Now, if someone can only someone identify these newly-rich cyber-entrepreneurs for Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, I’m sure they can be made to pay the proper taxes. We’re talking about the Filipino versions of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates here, after all. * * * Speaking of Brillantes and his hack-proof, mock-tested machines, I must share this note from Hermenigildo Estrella, one of the IT experts who has raised serious questions about the PCOS machines. Estrella wrote about four questions for the ordinary voter should ask Comelec, in light of the recently-conducted mock elections. I think [Estrella wrote] the more important, and easily understandable points to bring to our voters, for them to see that their votes will be truly counted and reflected are the following: 1. Did [a voter in the mock polls] get a printed tape that showed the candidates you voted? Or did you see such list in the screen on the right side of the PCOS machine? Or were the words “Thank you. You have voted!” only shown on this screen? If you did not see the list of the candidates you voted for, then you have no way to know whether the candidates you voted for were really recorded correctly. 2. Did the Board of Election Inspectors or Comelec rep during the test deliberately put a “fake” ballot to check whether the PCOS will really not read and reject such a fake ballot? If this was tried and the fake ballot was read; and the reason given is that the PCOS ultraviolet scanner was disabled or cannot read the “smudges” or “dense ink” used in the ballot, was a handheld scanner used instead? If none, then you and all of us are screwed. 3. Did you check whether the three BEIs in the precinct really have their own digital signatures? Were these digital signatures used or applied before sending the election results to the canvassing centers? 4. After the reading of the votes, and the printing of the election returns, was there a check and comparison of the printed election result and a manual count of the actual ballots read by the PCOS? If there was no such comparison, how would you know that the PCOS counts were the same as those truly reflected in the actual ballots? “The answers and/or observations on these four points alone will give the layman voters the information by which they can judge on their own whether to believe or not our contentions about the PCOS,” Estrella wrote. “When they see that our warnings and contentions are true, the voters themselves will act.”
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