Philippines election body probes hacking report, says no breach

People take part in a simulation for the 2022 Philippine election, at a polling station in Pasay City, Philippines, on Dec 29, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines' election agency on Wednesday (Jan 12) said it had tapped law enforcers and information security experts to look into a news report that said hackers had compromised its systems, but insisted no data beach had occurred.

The Manila Bulletin newspaper on Monday reported a suspected breach on election servers and that hackers allegedly accessed and downloaded an estimated 60 gigabytes of data, that included"usernames and PINS of vote-counting machines." Commission on Elections (COMELEC) commissioner Rowena Guanzon dismissed the story as "fake news" in a tweet.

COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez told a regular media briefing: "We see no evidence of any sort of breach."

He said the allegations, which have alarmed presidential candidates, were being validated.

The Manila Bulletin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its report. Manila Bulletin received information on the cyber attack from a source at the weekend, Art Samaniego, the newspaper's tech news editor, told ANC news channel on Wednesday, without elaborating.

The reported hacking brought back memories of a data breach months before the 2016 presidential election, where personal data, including passport information of more than 50 million Filipinos, was compromised by hackers.

"We should not let this (incident) pass and the COMELEC must explain what happened and how will this affect the upcoming election," former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who is running for president, said in a statement.

The National Privacy Commission on Wednesday said it would start its own investigation and called for an explanation from COMELEC and the newspaper.

COMELEC came under scrutiny last year after it awarded a logistics company headed by an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte secure a 1.61 billion pesos (S$43.6 million) contract to transport equipment and ballots for the 2022 elections.

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