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Hackers, a worldwide cybersecurity problem

NO government in the world today, not even the United States, is prepared to fight hackers, a cybersecurity expert declared at a forum on cyber security, PilipinasCon 2018, in Taguig City this week.

Elections worldwide are being hacked. “Every single counting machine is hackable,” said cybersecurity expert Marc Goodman. At a recent underground hacking conference, he said, 25 different counting machines were broken into remotely and directly. Filipino hackers, he added, committed the biggest government data breach in history when they broke into the Comelec’s voter database and published it online in April, 2016, a month before the election that year.

The US today is in the middle of a hacking controversy, with Russian hackers reportedly invading the computers of US election officials in the last presidential elections. While the focus of a probe by an independent special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice is on possible collusion between the Russians and Trump campaigners, probers are also looking into election results in some states.

Electronic voting has already been banned in Germany and other countries in Europe. The German Federal Constitutional Court ruled in 2009 that electronic voting is unconstitutional because it does not allow any meaningful public scrutiny.

The Philippines shifted to electronic voting in the presidential election of 2010 and the innovation of knowing election results within a few days – in contrast with weeks and even months in previous elections – was widely welcomed.

There were fears and suspicions of some cheating, but they were never proved. There are no precinct results certified and signed by election officials in automated elections, only figures that pop out of a precinct machine and sent to a central machine in the provincial capital, and on to the national counting center. This is what the German court pointed out – the impossibility of public scrutiny – when it ruled against electronic voting in Germany’s elections.

There is a move in the Philippines for a mixed system of electronic voting and manual precinct counting. At the very least, this would produce a paper trail, unlike the present system where everything is literally up in the air. As so, as the speaker in the Forum on Cybersecurity in Taguig, Marc Goodman, pointed out, every single counting machine today is hackable.

Governments around the world are not well-equipped to cope with ever-advancing cyber criminals, he said, “because people in power use everything available to fight their enemies and protect themselves from being removed from power.” We are not ready to subscribe to this cynical view of people in power, but we acknowledge his knowledgeability on cybersecurity and we hope our own officials will see the merit of reviewing our present election system and put more safeguards in place.

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