Arvind Kejriwal hacking row: Here's what Election Commission has to say on tampering of EVMs

The high drama in Delhi Assembly on Tuesday was just a case of old wine in new bottle. There was nothing new in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) issue that Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislator Saurabh Bhardwaj raked in the Assembly, barring a live demonstration of the machine.

AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

Even otherwise, the EVM issue was not meant to be an answer to the allegations levelled against Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal by his sacked minister, Kapil Mishra. The latter had alleged that he had been a witness to Kejriwal’s accepting Rs 2 crore cash from health and PWD minister Satyendar Jain.

Moreover, the display of EVM in the Assembly, can land AAP in another avoidable controversy — from where did the party get the EVM?

According to EC sources, the EVM displayed in the Assembly has not been sourced from the commission. “The EC doesn’t take responsibility of the EVM procured from any other source,” the source said.

Old wine in new bottle

After facing volleys of allegations from Mishra, the Delhi chief minister on Monday, broke his stoic silence by posting on his official Twitter account, “Jeet satya ki hogi. Kal Delhi Vidhan Sabha ke vishesh satra se iski shuruat (The truth will triumph. The beginning will be from the special Assembly session tomorrow).”

Instead of responding to the allegations, Kejriwal chose to remain silent and the AAP MLA from Greater Kailash in South Delhi, Saurabh Bharadwaj chose to speak.

The engineer-turned-politician Bharadwaj gave a live demonstration of an EVM to prove the party’s point that the BJP won elections including the Municipal Corporations of Delhi by using (read manipulating) EVMs as ‘brahmastra’ against its opponents.

But, what’s new in Bharadwaj’s ‘exposé’ that required a special session of the Vidhan Sabha?

Bharadwaj, on 26 April, had told Firstpost at length in an exclusive chat about the ‘conspiracy of EVMs’ and how the BJP had used it to win elections — one after another.

He reiterated the same in the House on Tuesday, while adding how ‘secret codes’ related to contesting parties in an EVM by a particular party (read BJP) to garner votes. He justified his role as an engineer by going into the technicalities of an EVM functioning.

But, the AAP leader has yet to tell how the secret codes are breached or hacked.

Expert's take 

“It is almost impossible to breach the security mechanism in an EVM. The way the AAP MLA demonstrated and claimed in the Assembly regarding manipulation of a machine, it doesn’t happen like that. Once a button is pressed in an EVM, it gets blocked and one can’t do the same process again on his own. Stringent security protocols are maintained at multiple levels. An EVM manufacturer is in no position to know which candidate will be contesting from a particular constituency and what will be the sequence of the candidates on Ballot Unit (BU). So, manipulating ‘secret codes’ as claimed by the MLA is virtually impossible,” a technical expert familiar with the manufacturing and functioning of EVMs in India told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

What the Election Commission has to say?

After a series of allegations levelled first by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati, followed by others, including AAP supremo Kejriwal, after the announcement of results of five state Assembly elections, the EC issued FAQs to avoid any misconception.

The ECI released the set of FAQs in April 2017 along with this statement: In the recent past, there have been some queries in the minds of people about the security features of EVMs of Election Commission of India (ECI). The Election Commission has, time and again, stated that ECI-EVMs and its systems are robust, secure and tamper-proof. 

“The EC issued a set of FAQs to clear the air of misconception, rumours and false allegations against EVM functioning. The FAQs answers the questions raised by the AAP by explaining the fool-proof security measures in the EVMs that EC has in its custody,” the EC source said.

The following FAQs give a detailed view of security features, including latest technological features of EVMs and stringent administrative measures taken at every step of its usage from manufacturing to storage.

All you need to know about ECI-EVM security features: The ECI explains

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

What is meant by tampering of EVM?

Tampering means alteration in the software programme written either on existing microchips of Control Unit (CU) or introducing malicious software programme by inserting new microchips in CU and also making keys — pressed in Ballot Unit (BU) not record faithfully in the Control Unit.

Are the ECI- EVMs hackable?

No. M1 (model one) of EVM machines were manufactured till 2006 and had all the necessary technical features making M1 non-hackable contrary to claims made by some activists.

On the recommendations of the Technical Evaluation Committee in 2006, M2 model of EVMs produced after 2006 and up to 2012 incorporated dynamic coding of key codes thereby enabling transfer of the key – press message from Ballot Unit (BUs) to Control Unit (CUs), in an encrypted form as an additional security feature. It also contains real-time setting of each key press so that sequencing of key presses including so called malicious sequenced key presses can be detected and wrapped.

Further, the ECI-EVMs are not computer-controlled, are standalone machines and not connected to the internet and /or any other network at any point of time. Hence, there is no chance of hacking by remote devices.

The ECI-EVMs do not have any frequency receiver or decoder for data for wireless or any external hardware port for connection to any other non-EVM accessory or device. Hence, no tampering is possible either through hardware port or through wireless, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth device because CU accepts only encrypted and dynamically coded data from BU. No other kind of data can be accepted by CU.

Can ECI-EVMs be manipulated by manufacturers?

Not possible. There is very stringent security protocol at manufacturer-level regarding security of software. The machines have been manufactured in different years starting from 2006. After manufacturing, EVMs are sent to a state and district within a state. The manufacturers are in no position to know several years ahead which candidate will be contesting from a particular constituency and what will be the sequence of the candidates on the BU. Also, each ECI-EVM has a serial number and the Election Commission by use of EVM – tracking software can find out from its database which machine is located where. So, any manipulation at manufacturing stage is ruled out

Are old model EVMs still in use?

M1 model of EVM machines were produced up to 2006 and were last used in 2014 General Elections. In 2014, EVM machines which completed 15 years of economic life and also because M1 were not compatible with VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail), the ECI decided to discontinue use of all M1 EVMs manufactured up to 2006. There is a Standard Operating Procedure laid down by ECI to discard EVMs. The process of destruction of EVM and its chip is carried out in the presence of Chief Electoral Officer of the state or his representatives inside the factory of manufacturers.

Can ECI-EVMs be physically tampered with or components be changed without anyone noticing?

In addition to the existing security features in earlier models M1 and M2 of ECI-EVMs, the new M3 EVM produced after 2013 have additional features like tamper detection and self-diagnostics. The tamper detection feature makes an EVM inoperative the moment anyone tries to open the machine. The self-diagnostic feature checks the EVM fully every time it is switched on. Any change in its hardware or software will be detected. A prototype of a new model M3 with above features is going to be ready shortly. A Technical Experts Committee will examine it and then production will commence. About Rs 2,000 crores have been released by the government to procure M3 EVMs with above additional features and new technological advancements.

What are the latest technological features to make ECI-EVMs tamper proof?

The ECI-EVMs use some of the most sophisticated technological features like one time programmable (OTP) micro-controllers, dynamic coding of key codes, date and time stamping of each and every key press, advanced encryption technology and EVM-tracking software to handle EVM logistics, among others to make the machine 100 percent tamper proof. In addition to these, new model M3 EVMs also have tamper detection and self-diagnostics as added features. Since, software is based on OTP the programme cannot be altered, re-written or re-read. Thus, making EVM tamper proof. If anyone make, attempt, the machine will become in operative.

To what extent are allegations of EVM tampering in local body polls true?

There is a misunderstanding in this regard due to lack of knowledge about jurisdiction. In case of elections to municipal bodies or rural bodies like panchayat elections, the EVMs used do not belong to the Election Commission of India. Above local bodies elections come under the jurisdiction of State Election Commission/s (SECs), which procure their own machines and have their own handling system. The ECI is not responsible for functioning of EVMs used by SECs in above elections.

What are the different levels of checks and balances ensuring tamper proofing of ECI-EVMs?

First-Level Checking: Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL)/Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) engineers certify originality of components after technical and physical examination of each EVM, undertaken in front of representatives of political parties. Defective EVMs are sent back to factory. The FLC Hall is sanitised, entry is restricted and no camera, mobile phone or spy pen is allowed inside. Mock poll of at least 1,000 votes is conducted on 5 percent EVMs selected randomly by reps of political parties and the result shown to them. The entire process is video graphed.

Randomisation: The EVMs are randomised twice while being allocated to an Assembly and then to a polling booth ruling out any fixed allocation. Mock poll at polling station is conducted in front of polling agents of candidates on the poll day, before polls begin. After poll, EVMs are sealed and polling agents put their signature on the seal. Polling agents can travel upto strong room during transportation.

Strong Rooms: Candidates or their representatives can put their own seals on the strong rooms where polled EVMs are stored after the voting nd also camp in front of strong room. These strong rooms are guarded 24x7 in multi-layers.

Counting Centres: The polled EVMs are brought to the counting centres and Unique IDs of the seals and CU are shown to reps of candidates before start of counting.

Updated Date: May 09, 2017 23:48 PM

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