By Danessa O. Rivera and Charlie V. Manalo
The Daily Tribune
In a sign of bad faith, Smartmatic, the technical provider and partner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), failed to disclose that its precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines had console ports or “secret backdoors” which anyone could open without the need for passwords or usernames to gain complete control over the units’ operating system and obviously could be used for manipulating votes.
This backdoor port gives anyone the opportunity to either modify, erase, save or overwrite files and programs in the PCOS machines, an IT expert yesterday disclosed during a media forum at the Sulo Hotel.
At the same time, in another forum held at the Manila Polo Club in Makati yesterday, LRA Pacific operations director Jonathan Manalang disclosed that there were several concerns that were seemed highly questionable. Manalang said some concerns were on the proper inventory of the PCOS machines.
As he and his team called technicians in different precincts to confirm if they had received the right number of PCOS machines, they were informed that some received less than the designated number of PCOS machine while some received more.
They reported this matter to Smartmatic officials but all the tech provider officials said was “they will handle it.”
Manalang added that certain PCOS machines only allowed a certain number of votes, an issue that became a concern, when some precinct polling places received the wrong PCOS machines.
LRA Pacific was the outsourcing company hired by Smartmatic to handle the technical support during the elections.
Manalang served as a witness during the hearings regarding election fraud at the House of Representatives on June 30 but this was cut short a few days before the last day of hearing by Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. who headed the congressional committee.
Contrary to assertions of Smartmatic that its PCOS machines are tamper-proof, an IT expert, Roberto Verzola, yesterday bared that the
voting machines used in the May 10 polls contained a backdoor entry which can enable anyone to access their data, overwrite them or use them for any purpose one may deem beneficial to his intention.
At the weekly Kapihan sa Sulo, Obet Verzola, the IT expert, said investigators conducting a forensic examination on the 60 PCOS machines found in the possession of a Smartmatic technican in Antipolo City, had discovered a backdoor or portal at the back of the machines, which is called a console.
Verzola said that this console can be used by anyone simply by accessing it through a cable and once access has been gained, the “intruder” can easily access the data, overwrite them or use the data for whatever purposes desired.
Through the consul, Verzola added that the hacker can easily erase all data including the audit trail which Smartmatic claims is a fool-proof mechanism to detect if the machines had been hacked.
Smartmatic’s chief in the Philippines, Cesar Flores, during a congressional hearing admitted in the face of evidence, after denying it earlier, that the audit log entries can be altered, that compact flash (CF) cards can be reprogrammed as desired, and that votes can be rescanned, erased or added to another candidate.
Although not concluding the machines might have indeed been hacked and programs over-ridden and overwritten, the IT expert said the console only substantiate claims that the PCOS machines are not tamper-proof as Smartmatic claims them to be and the probability of the results having been compromised is relatively high.
Making matters worse, Verzola said, is that Smartmatic, did not disclose the existence of the console.
“We don’t know what other secrets these PCOS machines have,” said Verzola. “If there still things we don’t know about the PCOS machines, Smartmatic should now come forward and bare them all.”
At the moment, Flores is selling Comelec and the public the idea of the poll body buying the PCOS machines—all 82,600 of them—for P2 billion, claiming that these machines can be used for the next 10 years, and many more automated elections to come. It is doubted whether Smartmatic would disclose anything negative.
Comelec apparently is also keen on the idea of purchasing these easy to tamper machines, despite all the discoveries of a fraudulent automated election.
But with the discovery, the IT expert reiterated his call for the Comelec to expedite its audit on the 76,000 PCOS on where they have been brought after the May 10 elections, inventory the CF cards, and release the results of the random manual it has conducted.
Verzola stressed the three issues should be resolved immediately as they could be used to determine whether the election results as based on the election results transmitted by the PCOS machines are credible or if they had been hacked.
“But up to now, the Comelec has yet to release results of its audit,” said Verzola.
The IT expert also reiterated his call to upload the images of the ballots captured by the PCOS machines in the Comelec so that people can also help in determining whether fraud was committed in the country’s first automated polls.
“Uploading these JPEG images of the ballots cast in the May 10 polls could also be used to audit the votes. And it could be easily done as these images are contained in the CF cards,” Verzola stated.
Verzola also noted that PCOS operating system “permanently records an application log only which is saved to an audit log file in the removable CF card. The operating system log is saved not to the CF card but to volatile memory also called a RAM disk whose contents are lost everytime the PCOS machine is turned off. Thus, intrusions through this secret backdoor leave no record for forensic examination. In addition, intruders can also overwrite a recent audit log file with an old copy, allowing them to hide their tracks from the application log as well.”
“You can erase any trace of intrusion with this backdoor access,” Verzola said.
To access the PCOS operating system, he said, anyone can merely connect the console port to any computer using a special cable.
Verzola asked why Smartmatic, government’s poll automation contractor, did not inform Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) about the console ports.
“ASTI said those are only output ports for getting data from the machine,” he said.
Meanwhile, a privately-funded group yesterday said that there was massive fraud in the first electronic elections held May 10 as the Comelec and Congress violated the laws in the electoral process and in the canvassing votes which call into question the very legality and constitutionality of the entire elections and the proclamation process that followed.
The Movement for Integrity in Governance and Honesty and Truth in the May 2010 Elections (MIGHTe2010) said in its first public forum that the Comelec ignored and set aside many vital requirements of the Automated Election System Law (Republic Act 9369) while the Congress violated constitutional provisions governing the canvassing of votes for president and vice president.
Sen. Jamby Madrigal said the proclamation of the elected officials was illegal on grounds that there was no Congress joint session held as election returns were counted.
This was seconded by Lawyer Homobono Adaza, saying that the canvassing of votes must be done through a joint session by the Upper and Lower House with all members present that should be done publicly.
In the forum, several witnesses presented how the fraud in the elections occurred. Philippine Computer Society Director Edmundo “Toti” Casiño said the election returns were not signed by election inspectors, which was a mandate as stated in the Batas Pambansa (BP) 881, questioning the legality of the votes.
He also said that some of the election returns had results with different dates other than May 10 which could have been “premature scanning of ballots.”
Another witness, Pastor Ronald Tan, a vice mayor candidate in the city of Tagaytay, said election fraud did not start in the transmission of election returns but it started in the voters’ list, saying that the “Comelec must be put to task and be held accountable.”
He also said three days before the elections, he was offered 10 Compact Flash (CF) cards in exchange for the amount of P5 million by a Smartmatic Information Technology (IT) personnel and a Comelec employee to get a sure win in the elections.
MIGHTe2010 is a non-partisan gathering of civil society organizations, political groups, business entrepreneurs, and concerned citizens which include the Philippine Computer Society, Bangon Pilipinas, Ang Kapatiran Party, Anti-Trapo Movement of the Philippines, Brigada Berde, Bantay Garci 2010, Mahal Ko Bayan Ko, Center for Alternative Development Initiatives, Buklod National Political Party,Quezon City Political Coaltion for Truth, Para Sa Bansa Movement, Buklod Political Party, Atripeda and many more.
MIGHT e2010 has three goals namely to unravel the truth surrounding the May 2010 elections; to restore honesty and truth in our electoral processes; and to advance moral integrity and true service in the governance of our country.