GMA News Online - Poll official says hacking of Comelec website will not happen again

6 August 2018

By Amita Legaspi | GMA News Online

An official of the Commission on Elections expressed confidence Monday that the hacking of the poll body’s website months before the 2016 elections will not happen again.

During the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV asked Comelec how it could be sure that it would not fall victim to another cyberattack and that its database is protected.

Comelec executive director Jose Tolentino said that the poll body’s website is now hosted by the Department of Information and Communications Technology and that the commission has installed safeguards.

“We are now being hosted by DICT, unlike before when we just hosted our own website. And I think Undersecretary [Eliseo] Rio will be proud to say that up to now no one has ever been able to get into the system,” he told the joint committee.

“Aside from that, we have a back-up of database and it is separate, it’s not connected to any website,” he added.

Tolentino said that the commission had been hacked through the "Find Precinct" application, which allowed the public to search their precinct assignments.

He said that as a precautionary measure, the Comelec will let the DICT conduct a source code review of any application it plans to use to ensure that it will not be breached.

Tolentino also said that the hacking incident did not affect the 2016 elections because the website is not connected to the automated elections system.

“There are quarters that say it affected the integrity of the elections but the database is not connected in any way to our automated election system,” he said.

Also during the hearing, one of the resource persons said that there were election officers who were selling voter information to politicians.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that the practice is not new.

“May mga nagbanggit na sa akin niyan, mga taga-Nueva Ecija, merong taga-Iloilo, na inaalok ng kung anu-anong mga sistema na dapat iniimbestigahan talaga ng Comelec ‘yan. I am glad that the DICT has been established and kahit paano merong mag-o-oversee ng ginagawa na computerization program natin ng elections,” he told reporters.

The Senate leader said that one way the voter database is used illegally is to transfer voters to different precincts to create confusion.

“Sari-sari yan. Pwedeng ‘yung mga botante ililipat ng presinto, ‘yung mga alam nilang mga kalaban nung kandidato, yung kandidatong bumabayad, ililipat ng presinto, pag-dating ng election day hindi niya makita ang presinto niya kung saan siya napunta, madalas gawin 'yun. Ilang daan-daan ‘yan kung gawin,” he said.

He said it usually happens at the local level.

“Sa local kasi ganun ang labanan. I am not sure if some of us are not familiar with it pero sa local kasi, ang technique ng mga kandidato, kailangan meron silang kopya ng voters' list. For every barangay, every street ‘yung mga leaders nila alam kung sino ang boboto sa kanila at hindi,” he said.

“So kung identified nila yung mga hindi boboto sa kanila, at meron kang connection katulad niyan, na may mga rogue na tao na taga-Comelec or meron namang ‘ika nga ay dealer lang for Comelec personnel, magagawa nila yun. Ma-identify nila kung sino yung boboto at hindi sa kandidato nila,” Sotto added.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the commission is aware of the practice and that it has already taken steps to cleanse its ranks of rogue personnel.

“Matagal na naming alam at palagi nating nililinis ang ating sistema laban sa mga ganyang klaseng activities? May mga nahuhuli tayong mga election officers na talagang, some of them take advantage, natanggal na ‘yang mga ‘yan,” he told reporters after the hearing.

Jimenez added that Comelec will investigate if there are still election officers conducting illegal activities. — BM, GMA News