PCOS machines hackable, rigging poll results hardly feasible – cybersecurity expert

The Precinct Count Optical Scanner (PCOS) machines can be hacked externally, Angel Redoble, Philippine Institute of Cyber Security Professionals (PICSPro) president, admitted in an exclusive interview on April 14.

“Nothing is safe from hacking,” he said. “Any device connected to the Internet is hackable.”

Rigging the election results, however, could not be achieved by simply compromising the PCOS machines, Redoble noted.

After hacking the machines “to gain access,” the entry of votes should be manipulated to alter the poll results, he explained.

“Manipulating the votes, however, is extremely not feasible,” Redoble said.

The manipulated numbers would be transmitted electronically to the election canvassers, he clarified.

The hackers would need to ensure the data are authentic, said Redoble, who chairs the Philippine National Police – Anti-Cybercrime Group national advisory council.

Making the manipulated data look authentic would be a big challenge, he noted. The hackers would need to duplicate the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) signature for authenticating election returns.

In case the hackers could successfully establish authenticity, the period of time to rig the numbers would pose the biggest challenge, Redoble pointed out.

“You can hack the PCOS machines only after the casting of votes, when the machines are connected to the Internet,” he said.

The ‘window of opportunity’ for manipulating the votes, during the electronic transmission to the canvassers in so short a time of five seconds, makes rigging the numbers hardly feasible, Redoble explained.

“Even with a 10-minute ‘window of opportunity’ the hackers could not be able to manipulate the numbers in the PCOS machines,” he said.

A candidate for a national position should compromise hundreds of PCOS machines to rig the votes in his favor, and “probably 10 for a local post,” Redoble said.

“The ‘window of opportunity would prevent hackers” from tampering poll results externally, he noted.

But Isaac Sabas, another cybersecurity specialist and CEO of homegrown Pandora Security Labs, said in a separate interview that hackers may need no more to hack the election itself.

“They just need to compromise the database of voters and manipulate the count before election,” he pointed out.

The elections are already rigged prior the pools if the Comelec’s database is compromised, Sabas explained.

“Whether we like it or not, the 2016 elections are tainted with doubts since we can’t be certain that the integrity of data is up,” he said.

In a recent report, the Comelec’s entire database of over 55 million registered voters sustained a massive breach, compromising the integrity of the May 9 elections. (Oliver Samson)

In photo. Philippine Institute of Cyber Security Professionals founder and president Angel Redoble during interview in Quezon City. (Oliver Samson)

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