Long before AAP’s ‘tampering demo’, another expose in 2010 ended in arrest

The 2010 team even managed to steal an actual EVM and claimed that there were multiple ways in which the devices could be hacked. 

ARUN GEORGE 

As the Aam Aadmi Party MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj presented a live ‘demo’ from inside the Delhi Assembly of how the electronic voter machines can be tampered, a similar attempt in 2010 by a software engineer ended in arrest.

Bharadwaj Tuesday claimed the existence of secret ‘codes’ that could be entered into Electronic Voting Machines (or EVM) by supporters of a party that had decided to rig the elections. However, while Bharadwaj presented a self-developed version of an EVM for the demonstration, the expose in 2010 was a far more audacious one.

A team consisting of a Hyderabad-based software firm owner Hari Prasad, Professor J Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan and Dutch hacker Rop Gogongrip claimed to have evidence of the multiple ways in which EVMs could be manipulated.

Unlike Bharadwaj’s ‘code’ system done on a representational system, the group even managed to steal an actual EVM and claimed that there were multiple ways in which the devices could be hacked.

They included the changing of the display unit, using a device to alter the results on the memory chip, and manipulating the software on the machines.

Here’s their video explaining how it could be done:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlCOj1dElDY

Among those who supported the initiative at that time is current BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao. In one of many blog posts on the subject that he wrote, Rao said, “The electronic voting machines have become deeply suspect in the eyes of the Indian political class. The EVM phobia has just begun. It would grow like rapid fire leading to their discontinuation in elections.

Rao’s claims came soon after the BJP suffered a bruising defeat in the 2009 general elections in which party supremo L.K. Advani was projected as the prime ministerial candidate. Now, Rao says that since his campaign the Election Commission has made many technical improvements and introduced safeguards.

Prasad, however, was even summoned for a meeting on tampering with EVMs by the then Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi.

The attempt to ‘expose’ the EVM system didn’t end happily for those involved though. The video revealed that the EVM shown in it had been stolen from Mumbai. Prasad and another collaborator, Mukund Lagoo, were arrested and later released on bail.

For now the Election Commission has presently invited all political parties to discuss their concerns about EVMs on May 12. It remains to be seen if the AAP MLA’s ‘hack’ will hold true after that.

–       Arun George is Executive Producer at ThePrint. You can follow him on Twitter @aarungeorge

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