Boost cybersecurity ahead of May election, government advised

Through Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Journalist

THE GOVERNMENT should beef up cybersecurity as candidates in this year’s election increase their social media presence to attract more votes amid a coronavirus pandemic, information technology and political analysts have said.

Agencies should adopt global best practices against cybercrime, said William Emmanuel S. Yu, professor of computer science at Ateneo de Manila University.

“Government agencies must continue to invest in information security because once you are good at securing your platforms today, the world is changing – there will be new exploits, more faults and more problems,” he said over the phone.

“You have to be able to benchmark yourself because security is never 100%,” he added.

He said agencies should invest in both software hardware and human resources to strengthen cybersecurity.

“The months leading up to the May elections will be critical as there will be trust issues and questions of legitimacy,” said Dennis V. Blanco, associate professor of political science at the University of the Philippines (UP).

He cited computer glitches in the vote counting machines and canvassing system in the past and the alleged hacking of Electoral Commission (Comelec) servers.

The electoral body should resolve these issues quickly to ensure the integrity of the electoral process and maintain public trust, he said in an email.

“The integrity of the electoral system and of our government is at stake,” said Maria Ela L. Atienza, professor of political science at UP. “Does the government have the capacity and the desire to ensure that our systems are secure?

The Department of Information and Communications Technology said Comelec’s database remained intact and its vote counting systems were offline when the recent hack took place.

Yu said the uncertainty about the elections will lead people to doubt the election results.

The crime rate usually increases during an election period, said the IT expert, adding that the only difference now would be the digital nature of crimes, which would be more difficult to solve. He also warned against more fake news and information.

Media research expert Jay L. Bautista noted that while Manila, the capital and neighboring cities have stable internet, nearly half of the country does not.

Candidates should therefore use both social and traditional media to push their political and economic platforms, he said.

Nearly two-thirds of adult Filipinos have internet access, while the rate in the capital region was 84%, according to a Pulse Asia poll in September. The rate for the rest of Luzon was 65%, 62% in the Visayas and 47% in Mindanao.

Blanco said contestants should try to reach technology-challenged areas and strike a balance between social media and traditional media usage.

A group calling itself Anonymous Philippines hacked Comelec’s website on March 27, 2016, defaced it and left a message calling for stricter security measures on vote-counting machines to be used in the presidential elections of 2016.

A few days later, a second group of hackers uploaded Comelec’s entire database and added three more mirror links where the database could be downloaded.

“Every registered voter in the Philippines is now exposed to fraud and other risks after a massive data breach leaked the entire Comelec Philippines database,” Trend Micro said at the time.

“While initial reports downplayed the impact of the leak, our investigations have shown that a large amount of sensitive personally identifiable information – including passport information and fingerprint data – was included in the file. data dump,” he added.

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