Hired hackers try, and fail, to break into Brazil’s electoral system

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – More than 20 would-be hackers gathered at the Brazilian electoral authority’s headquarters in the capital this week. Your mission: infiltrate the country’s voting system ahead of a much-anticipated race in October.

Analysts and TSE members said the test results were more encouraging than ever. All the experts who tried to disrupt the system – including Federal Police agents and university professors in engineering, information technology, data security and computer science – failed.

“No attack has succeeded in altering the fate of a vote on the electronic ballot,” Julio Valente da Costa, TSE’s information technology secretary, said in an interview with the Associated Press. “The importance of this test is to give us peace of mind, at least about all the technology and computing components for the elections.”

When Bolsonaro won the presidential race four years ago, he claimed he had secured victory in the first round, not the second round weeks later. The former army captain has repeatedly made accusations that the voting system used for three decades is vulnerable, and has at times said he has evidence of fraud, but has never produced any evidence.

Last year, Bolsonaro suggested the election could be canceled unless electoral reform is passed in Congress. But the proposed constitutional change did not get enough votes.

Analysts and politicians have expressed concern that Bolsonaro, who trails leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in every early poll, is laying the groundwork to follow the lead of his ally, former US President Donald Trump, and reject the election results.

The TSE has gone to great lengths to bring more openness to the electoral process, including inviting the Armed Forces to participate in its transparency commission, although the role of the military in elections is traditionally limited to taking ballots to isolated communities and strengthening security in violent regions. .

Some political and military analysts have argued that the TSE’s olive branch proved to be a mistake, as tensions have increased since then.

An Army general who is part of a commission presented dozens of questions to the TSE earlier this year.

“(The Armed Forces) are being told to attack the process and try to discredit it,” Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso, who chaired the TSE until February, said during a March 24 conference with a German university. The reaction of Bolsonaro’s Defense Ministry, which issued a statement saying the accusation was “a serious insult”.

Barroso’s successor in the TSE, Minister of the Federal Supreme Court Luiz Edson Fachin, said this Thursday that the elections will be held by “unarmed forces”, adding that the declaration of the result of the TSE vote will be final.

Still, some analysts remain concerned.

“The Armed Forces are now part of the Bolsonaro government, from a political point of view, and are helping the president’s efforts to corrode institutions from within,” said João Martins Filho, a military expert who led the Brazilian Defense Studies Association, said. by phone. “This is no small thing. It’s very dangerous.”

Last week, as the TSE prepared for the test, Bolsonaro promised his party would seek an external audit of the system before the first round of voting.

The TSE test has its origins in November, when experts selected 29 methods for hacking the voting system. Five managed to cause some interference, which was minor and did not affect the results, the TSE said at the time. These five installments were evaluated during this week’s three-day test, which showed that all issues were resolved, TSE member Sandro Nunes Vieira told reporters after its conclusion. A commission will evaluate the results and publish an official report at the end of May.

Carlos Alberto da Silva, professor of data security at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul, was part of the group that tried to break into the system. He and a student discovered a loophole in the audio output that could violate the confidentiality of the vote. On Friday, he told the AP that the issue had been resolved by the TSE.

More tests will come in August, when the TSE performs a kind of simulation of election day. That’s when Brazil’s presidential campaign will officially begin, although Bolsonaro and Lula are already holding rallies and events.

The TSE will continue to carry out security tests until 15 days before the election. Since 1996, it has never found evidence of mass electoral fraud.

Wilson Vicente Ruggiero, a professor of computer engineering at the University of São Paulo who collaborates with the TSE, told AP that “today’s process is much safer than in the past.”

“There is no reason to fear the vote or the process itself could be rigged,” Ruggiero said.

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AP Jeantet journalists reported from Rio de Janeiro, and Mauricio Savarese contributed from São Paulo.

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