Privacy commission sets meeting to clarify details on alleged Comelec hack

Privacy commission sets meeting to clarify details on alleged Comelec hack
Individuals queue for Voter registration outside the COMELEC office in Quezon City. Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez announced that the Commission approved the resumption of voter registration from 8am to 5pm in areas under MECQ (September 6, 2021).
The STAR / Boy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The National Privacy Commission has set a clarificatory meeting between the Commission on Elections and the Manila Bulletin, who first reported the alleged data breach concerning 2022 polls, on January 25.

"The NPC’s Complaints and Investigation Division commenced its own independent investigation and issued a notice to Comelec requiring them to explain the alleged hacking and data breach," Privacy Commissioner John Henry Naga said on Wednesday.

"The Comelec must address the serious allegations made in the Manila Bulletin news report," the privacy commission added.

The NPC ordered Comelec to submit no later than January 21 the results of its probe into whether personal data processed in connection with the 2022 elections were compromised.

"Rest assured that the NPC does not tolerate any act in violation of the Data Privacy Act including negligence in implementing organizational, physical and technical security measures on personal data processing systems, whether in government or private institutions," Naga also said.

Manila Bulletin Tech editor Art Samaniego told ANC’s "Rundown" earlier Wednesday that he believes the hackers were looking for a "bug bounty," which he explained is "term used by security professionals where in a company gives something in return of the information that they get."

He added they received screenshots of active directory, which he said means the hacker has full access to the system, and sent them to the poll body.

In their January 10 report, Manila Bulletin said the hackers' group was able to download files including usernames and PINS of vote-counting machines.

CNN Phillipines quotes Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas dismissing the report as saying the reported hacking is unlikely since some of the data reportedly downloaded doesn't exist yet.  He said he had asked the poll body's IT department to check their systems and was told they "seemed to be negative" for signs of a breach. 

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon meanwhile tagged the Manila Bulletin report as "fake news" and said the editor must verify their claims.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez also said the information alleged to be downloaded does not exist in their systems as the configuration files containing them have not been completed.

Aspirants for national posts have already raised the alarm over the Manila Bulletin report and asked to the Comelec to confirm whether there was a data breach. They also called on the poll body to ensure that similar incidents will not affect the integrity of the coming polls.

At the House of Representatives, lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc are pushing for a legislative probe as they stressed that if proven that there was a hacking incident, "we need to know if this is serious enough that the poll results can be manipulated electronically." — Kristine Joy Patag

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