BRASILIA ( Associated Press) — More than 20 would-be hackers gathered this week at the headquarters of Brazil’s electoral authority in the capital, Brasilia. His mission: infiltrate the country’s voting system before the expected presidential elections in October.
His battery of assaults, which lasted three days, ended on Friday and was part of the tests that are carried out every election year and that usually pass without incident and without attracting attention. But with President Jair Bolsonaro continually questioning the reliability of the system, the test has taken on enormous significance as the electoral authority, the Superior Electoral Tribunal, or TSE, tries to bolster confidence in the upcoming general election.
Analysts and members of the TSE affirmed that the results of the tests were more encouraging than ever. All the experts who tried to tamper with the system — including federal police officers and university professors of engineering, information technology, data security and computer science — failed.
“No attack was able to alter the fate of a vote on the electronic ballot,” Julio Valente da Costa, the entity’s information technology secretary, told The Associated Press in a later interview. “This test is important so that we stay calm, at least about the technological and computer components of the elections.”
When Bolsonaro won the presidential race four years ago, he claimed that he had actually won in the first round, not in the runoff held weeks later. The former army captain has asserted on several occasions that the voting system that has been in place for three decades is vulnerable, and he has sometimes claimed that he has proof of fraud even though he has never presented any evidence.
Last year, the president suggested that the elections could be canceled unless Congress approved a reform of the vote. But the proposed constitutional amendment did not garner enough votes.
Analysts and politicians alike have expressed concern that far-right Bolsonaro, who according to early polls trails former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is laying the groundwork to follow the example of his US ally Donald Trump and reject the election results.
The TSE has done everything possible to make the electoral process more transparent, even inviting the armed forces to be part of its transparency commission, although traditionally the role of the army in elections is limited to taking ballots to isolated communities and to strengthen security in violent areas.
Some political and military analysts have argued that the TSE’s offer turned out to be a mistake as tensions have since risen. An army general who sits on the commission submitted dozens of questions to the electoral authority earlier this year.
“(The armed forces) are being guided to attack the process and try to discredit it,” said Supreme Court Judge Luis Roberto Barroso, who presided over the TSE until February, during a conference at a German university on March 24. His statements were criticized by the Bolsonaro Ministry of Defense, which issued a statement to point out that this accusation was “a serious insult.”
Barroso’s successor, Supreme Court Judge Luiz Edson Fachin, said Thursday that the elections will be guarded by “unarmed forces” and added that the TSE’s declaration of results will be final.
Despite this, some analysts remain concerned.
“Today, the armed forces are part of the Bolsonaro government, from a political point of view, and they are collaborating in the president’s efforts to corrode the institutions from within,” said João Martins Filho, a military expert who led the Association. Brazilian Defense Studies, by phone. “This is not a minor thing. It’s very dangerous”.
Last week, as the TSE prepared for the test, Bolsonaro promised that his party will seek an external audit of the system before the first round of elections.
The TSE test began in November, when experts selected 29 methods to infiltrate the voting system. Five managed to cause some type of interference, which were minor and did not affect the results, the entity said at the time. Those five possibilities were evaluated in the three-day test that week, which showed that all problems had been resolved, Sandro Nunes Vieira, a member of the TSE, told reporters after its completion. A commission will evaluate the results and publish a report at the end of May.
Carlos Alberto da Silva, a data security professor 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 breach the confidentiality of the vote. On Friday he told the Associated Press that the problem had been solved by the TSE.
There will be more tests in August, when the TSE will carry out something similar to an election day drill. At that point, the presidential campaign will be officially underway, although Bolsonaro and da Silva are already holding rallies and events.
The Superior Electoral Court will continue to carry out security tests up to 15 days before the elections. Since 1996, no evidence of massive electoral fraud has ever been found.
Wilson Vicente Ruggiero, a computer engineering professor at the University of Sao Paulo and a collaborator with the TSE, told the Associated Press that “the current process is much safer than that of the past.”
“There is no reason to fear that the ballot or the process itself may be rigged,” he said.
Jeantet reported from Rio de Janeiro. Associated Press writer Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.