EVM 'hackathon' test: All you need to know about EC's challenge to parties alleging tampering

After political parties in some states including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab alleged that the electronic voting machines used in recently conducted Assembly elections were tampered with, the government rubbished these claims and supported the Election Commission of India. Following a challenge thrown by the Election Commission (EC) to the parties, inviting them to try and tamper with the electronic voting machines (EVMs), a "hackathon" was planned for Saturday. Here's the frequently asked questions about the event.

Representational image. Courtesy: CNN-News18

Representational image. Courtesy: CNN-News18

What is a hackathon?

It's  incorrect to call it a "hackathon", since it's a word the Election Commission (EC) has not used. The reason for this challenge and how it will be conducted is outlined by the EC in 'EVM Challenge By Election Commission of India'. The EC is only inviting those parties who claim that the devices were tampered with, in order to demonstrate that it is not possible.

How will the parties crack the EVMs?

Three parts of the electronic voting system is under the scanner. There is a control unit (CU), a ballot unit (BU) and the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), which is deployed in only some locations for now.

The challenge is around using specific methods to compromise the EVM. This involves pressing the buttons in the CU or BU in a particular sequence, or to try and compromise the system by accessing it through wireless, bluetooth or mobile technologies. The Election Commission has indicated that the devices have no interfaces for remotely accessing the device, and the CU can only accept encrypted data from the BU.

What is the EVMs' defence?

The strongest security feature is that the EVMs are standalone devices. The US and European Union nations have previously introduced and discontinued EVMs. The problem with these devices is that they were networked, which allowed them to be compromised. The data is stored on the device itself, and not transferred to external memory.

You cannot introduce another device into the system. Every EVM has a serial number that is centrally tracked. According to the EC, strong device storage and transportation protocols as well as the paper audit trail (VVPAT) are aspects of the process that make use of EVMs in India secure. You cannot fool the system into accepting votes from another machine, the EC has claimed.

Which parties are challenging the EC?

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have accepted the EC's challenge. There are individual counters set up for the two participating parties.

Which are the EVMs that will be chosen?

The EVMs have to be chosen from polling booths in the contested states: Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur. Four EVMs from four polling stations in these states have been chosen by those participating in the challenge. These EVMs are made by Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bengaluru, and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, Hyderabad. There are no foreign technologies used in the EVMs, including the software.

What's next for the EC?

The EC has plans in place to increase confidence in the process of using EVMs. Funds to deploy VVPAT machines for all elections have already been allocated, and the EC plans to deploy VVPAT nationwide by 2019. As soon as a vote is cast on the ballot unit, the VVPAT machine displays details of the candidates that voters can verify for themselves. The VVPAT machine then prints out the details on a piece of real paper, that drops into a box and serves as a "paper audit trail" to back up the results of the EVM.

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Updated Date: Jun 03, 2017 14:43 PM

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