Cracking the codes

A group of experts in computer network engineering worked for four days last month, trying to violate the security of software codes that will govern the polls in the upcoming presidential elections, to be held in 2010. Authorities hoped to find and fix flaws.

In 1996 Brazil started to implement electronic voting during elections, and two years later incorporated satellite technology. Despite good results so far, the Government wants the system tested further, and last month challenged hackers to crack the system, and – should they succeed – find and fix the problems. 

Prince Alexander, a computer expert who specializes in e-voting, says that while the system is not completely secure, it is better than the old paper system. He compares it with electronic money transfers used by hundreds of banks worldwide. To date, only Venezuela, the US and Brazil itself have implemented electronic voting in the Americas; in none of these instances was electronic fraud detected. 

The Superior Electoral Court (TSE) organized a ‘cyber attack’, which took place between 10 and 13 November. During those four days, 38 experts in computer and network engineering tried hack into the system. According to the secretary of information technology of the TSE, Giuseppe Janine, none of them succeeded. Participants included individuals from public agencies, private companies and international organizations.  There were prizes of up to US$3,000 for the three people with the best ideas for how to improve the system. 

The Supreme Court Minister Ricardo Lewandowski was responsible for co-ordinating the tests, and a committee formed by external members to the Electoral Justice was responsible for the analysis and dissemination of final results.
After the tests, Giuseppe Janine said that no hacker had been able to undermine the system and expressed satisfaction with the results: ‘The voter need not worry when voting.’  

Janine declared himself very satisfied with the system’s invulnerability and said that the completion of the test was a milestone for Brazil, who were now pioneers in this area: ‘No institution has opened its electoral processes, whether automated or otherwise, for public testing.’ As for the suggestions that were received from the hackers, Janine said they will be considered and studied by the technicians of the TSE. ‘We are completely open and we will study carefully and judiciously these proposals with the aim of deepening our commitment to the continuous improvement of the Brazilian electoral process.’

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