MANILA – Authorities arrested three persons for allegedly claiming to have illegally accessed the Smartmatic System to influence the results of the upcoming May 9 national and local election, official of the Philippine National Police-Anti Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) said on Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Robert Rodriguez, chief of the Philippine National Police-Anti Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG), identified the suspects as Joel Adajar Ilagan, a.k.a. "Borge"; Adrian De Jesus Martinez, a.k.a. "Admin X"; and Jeffrey Cruz Limpiado a.k.a. "Brake/Vanguard/Universe/LRR", members of notorious hackers named “XSOX Group”, who are claiming to have illegally accessed the Smartmatic System. They were arrested on Sunday (April 24) by the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), together with the ACG during an entrapment operation in Imus, Cavite, and Santa Rosa, Laguna.
Rodriguez said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Smartmatic system is hard to penetrate, as he assured the public that the elections is safe and hack-proof.
“It is really very difficult to access the system. To cheat the election, kailangan mong napakaraming involved na tao (it needs a lot of people) and it is next to impossible. I am assuring the public na based sa kung paano kami na-brief, talagang very fool-proof yung system. Hindi basta basta maha-hack (that based on what we were briefed, the system is really fool-proof. It would be very difficult to hack) That is the assurance that we give to the public,” Rodriguez told reporters in a press conference held in Quezon City.
With the arrest of the three suspects, Rodriguez said, "we can assure the public that the threat to rig our electoral process through hacking is substantially diminished as these are the only remaining known hackers who are persistently visible on the dark web claiming that they can manipulate election results."
He added that through the assistance of the Department of Justice, and the National Prosecution Service, criminal cases were filed against the suspects for violation of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, particularly System Interference, Illegal Access, and attempts in the commission of Cybercrime.
For his part, Undersecretary Cesar Mancao, executive director of the CICC divulged the group is asking for PHP60 million in order to influence or change the vote results for a certain candidate.
“Ang direktang kausap ng suspect na si alias "Grey" na ngayon napag-alaman natin na si Jeffrey (Limpiado) na siya rin ang utak ng XSOX group, ay siyang huling tumanggap ng actually boodle money na PHP10 million kasi humingi nga ng PHP60 million pero initial downpaynment ang PHP10 million (Suspect Jeffrey (Limpiado), alias Grey, head of the XSOX group, was the one who received the PHP10 million boodle money as downpayment for the total PHP60 million that the group is demanding) ,” Mancao told reporters during a press conference.
Mancao said there are several candidates who have contacted the group but they did not name them pending investigation.
“Sa ngayon, sabi nila na kung actually naghanap sila ng mga kandidato na sumasang ayon sa kanilang mga plano na maghack at papanalunin. Ayaw namin banggitin ang mga pangalan at probinsya subalit meron na at alam namin sa ngayon masasabi namin together with the PNP na ito napakalaking scam (For now, they said they are looking for candidates who will agree to their plan of hacking and make them win. We will not mention the names and provinces but yes, there are some who want to engage their service and we can say that this is a big scam),” he said.
Mancao added the group possibly has links to Ricardo Argana, a former contractual employee in the alleged data breaching of a technology firm, Smartmatic, a software provider on contract with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“Yung kanilang na-hack, totoo nga meron silang nakuhang access sa Smartmatic system nung una subalit doon nga sa nakuha kay Argana ay ganun din. Hanggang doon lang sa mga preparation pero sa actual election hindi na, napakahirap talaga i-access nitong ating Comelec system na nakuha from Smartmatic. Ang dami hong mga klaseng firewalls, multi level checking (What they hacked, and yes it is true they were able to gain access to the Smartmatic system at first, but what they did and what Argana got is the same. It is only up to the preparations, but the actual elections is hard to access because the Comelec system from Smartmatic is hard to crack. There are a lot of firewalls and multilevel checking),” he said.
Mancao said Limpiado, a 31-year-old businessman, was reportedly good at hiding his data and is experienced in hacking. Martinez, on the other hand, reportedly gained notoriety over credit cards, while Ilagan is an 18-year-old who knows his way in computers and programming.
In a statement, PNP Chief General Dionardo Carlos, said the successful operation has guaranteed the deterrence of possibly influencing the results for the upcoming May 9 polls.
“This is a proof that the public can give their full trust to the PNP organization in securing the people’s votes from being altered -- that may endanger the integrity of the elections,” he said.
Rodriguez said the ACG assured it will continue to monitor and closely watch any other similar illegal activities online, especially with respect to the upcoming elections.
“We assure the public that your PNP-ACG, together with our counterparts in CICC, NBI-Cybercrime Divison, and the DOJ will always be ready and vigilant to fight against cybercriminals in order to achieve a cyber-safe Philippines. We would like to encourage victims and informants to come forward and file their complaints to our office, PNP – Anti-Cybercrime Group (acg.pnp.gov.ph or at 0998 598 8116); CICC ([email protected]) or at ((02)7091-9513) or to our institutional partners, the NBI-Cybercrime Division (nbi.gov.ph or at (877) 624-7077), and DOJ – Office of Cybercrime (+632 523 8482). (PNA)