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Ekiti, Osun polls: More questions trail INEC’s server hacking claims

By Adeyemi Adepetun (Lagos) and Leo Sobechi (Abuja)
12 September 2022   |   4:09 am
Reactions have continued to trail disclosure by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu that hackers attacked the result viewing (IRV)...

INEC

Oni: We are vindicated; the Ekiti election came short of what it should be
• Cyber-attacks, a common phenomenon in the digital age, says Awe
• No server is hack-proof, says ATCON boss
• Nigerians need to guarantee that 2023 elections will be free, and fair, Amadi, Uwaje insist
• Development, a danger capable of stirring post-election crisis, says Okuns
• Ortom: FG must not meddle in INEC affairs
• NCC-CSIRT alerts Nigerians to Google Chrome extensions malware

Reactions have continued to trail disclosure by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu that hackers attacked the result viewing (IRV) portal during the recent Ekiti and Osun states governorship elections.

 
A civic society organisation, YIAGA Africa, had organised the meeting to introduce the election result analysis dashboard (ERAD) report agenda at the weekend.
 
Yakubu, while delivering a keynote address at the stakeholders’ conference on election result management in Abuja, disclosed that the technical concern for INEC was the repeated attempts to break through “our cyber security system for the portal.

“Our engineers reported several cyber-attacks on the portal during the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, some of them from as far as Asia. I am glad to note that all of them failed.
 
“However, while we are confident in the security solutions that we have deployed for IReV and all our web presence, we must remain vigilant and continue to strengthen our defences. We have tasked our engineers to do everything possible to fully protect the IReV and all our web resources.”

The disclosure has since been greeted with mixed feelings from information and communications technology experts, with some faulting it as a political gimmick.
   
Speaking with The Guardian, founder, Jidaw Systems and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Policy Advisor, Jide Awe, said only INEC could give specifics of the incidents.
 
Awe said cyber-attacks are, however, not uncommon in the digital era, stressing that all reputable organisations engaged in sensitive technological and data activities should have anticipated this and ensure information security is given top priority.
 
According to him, even a simple website can be targeted once it has been developed. “It’s not new to anyone in the industry. Cyber threats come in different forms. It’s inevitable, but that’s no justification for reverting to old, outdated ways of doing things.

“A good cyber-security policy, strategy, and culture should be in place institution-wide, in addition to the IT department of an organisation having a cyber-security arm well staffed with competent cyber-security professionals. It is a prerequisite for all modern institutions in the digital age,” Awe stressed.
 
The Executive Secretary, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Ajibola Olude, said it is possible for the INEC server to be hacked, stressing that there is no server that cannot be hacked.
 
“Why are some quarters claiming the disclosure is a political statement and can’t be correct? It is not a political statement. The fact that it is an INEC server does not mean it cannot be hacked.
 
“Whether it is a hoax or not, especially after INEC assured that its ICT was safe, I will not be able to speak for INEC, but it is possible to hack any server that is deemed important,” Olude noted.

The Chairman, Mobile Software Solution, Nigeria, Chris Uwaje, however, said these follow-ups must be looked into to ascertain the nature and structure of the attack: Is it penetration injection or hardware infrastructure hijack or portal defacement, among others?

Uwaje also said there is a need to know how INEC was able to detect and affirm that some of the attacks originated from as far as Asia, when INEC Internet Protocol may indeed be configured on IPv4 protocol.
 
According to him, INEC needs to be sure that the assumed attack is not overwhelmingly influenced by insider staff vulnerability.
 
“Which or who is the primary network of INEC Servers – assuming we now have INEC assurances that the nation now has digital presence servers?

“Why are nationally certified IT Professionals missing in the INEC national IT-Centric elections processes?
 
“Finally, was there an in-house Cyberhack attack simulation before it went live? Can the nation have assurances from INEC that the 2023 general elections would be effectively and equitably delivered? These assurances are imperative to pre-empt orchestrated funny acts going forward,” Uwaje stated.

Ekiti State governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP),Chief Segun Oni, said Yakubu’s disclosure has vindicated his belief that all was not well with the Ekiti governorship polls:

He said: “INEC should be able to know how vulnerable their system is and be able to fend off attackers. Whatever INEC is saying, let us hope they are sincere about it. Our own is that we believe that the Ekiti election came short of what it should be.

“If INEC wishes it can invite an external expert and allow them to investigate where their vulnerability lies, they should not bring us into this. If they see the hands of hackers, they should be able to investigate and identify those involved.”

Dr. Sam Amadi, Director, Abuja School of Political and Social Thoughts, described Mahmood’s disclosure as grave and serious. He said: “This is a serious issue. Nigerians need to inquire into the reliability and security of INEC technology infrastructure for the 2023 elections.

“This should start with knowing who is the vendor of these technological hard and software; how was the vendor procured and who is behind the veil? We also need to be assured about how INEC will protect the integrity of its election technology. This has to be demonstrated to a collage of experts put together by a bipartisan committee of the National Assembly.

“Nothing short of such transparent and credible demonstrations can assure us that the technology infrastructure is safe and bankable. INEC’s admission that its system was hacked calls for great scrutiny and a higher level of assurance. It is beyond words. INEC has to demonstrate it to the Nigerian electorate. The leadership of the National Assembly should lead in this demand as part of its oversight responsibility.”

Chief Jonathan Sunday Akuns described the development as a huge embarrassment. He stated: ‘’The reported claims of INEC server hacking raises a big question mark on the capacity and integrity of INEC to deliver credible outcomes of the 2023 general elections.  

“In recent times, INEC redeployed some of the key handlers of its IT facility, which raised eyebrows. Hence, such a reported hack is simply a test run of what to expect in 2023. This is obviously a clear and eminent danger that’s capable of stirring post-election crisis no matter who loses the election.’’

MEANWHILE, the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, has said the Federal Government must be fair and sincere in the conduct of the general elections.

Speaking when he visited the headquarters of the International Republican Institute (IRI), Washington, US, last week, Ortom alleged that there are indications that the Federal Government is interfering in INEC affairs.

The governor said opposition parties are concerned that the ruling party could come up with excuses to remain in power.

“The fact that the umpire appears to shift the goalpost to accommodate the sloppiness of the ruling party in observing its ostensibly firm timetable deadlines calls for concern,” Nathaniel Ikyur, chief press secretary to the governor, quoted his principal as saying.

On his part, Gregory Kearns, IRI director, Africa division, said it is important for Ortom, as a critical stakeholder, to amplify his advocacy for credible polls.

IN a related development, Nigerian Communications Commission’s Computer Security Incident Response Team (NCC-CSIRT) has alerted Nigerians to Google Chrome extensions malware.

 
The NCC-CSIRT identified five malicious Google Chrome Extensions that surreptitiously track online browser’s activities and steal their data.
 
According to NCC-CSIRT, the five malicious extensions, which the McAfee Mobile Research Team earlier discovered are Netflix Party with 800,000 downloads, Netflix Party 2 with 300,000 downloads, Full Page Screenshot Capture Screenshotting with 200,000 downloads, FlipShope Price Tracker Extension with 80,000 downloads, and AutoBuy Flash Sales with 20,000 downloads.
 
The NCC-CSIRT, in a statement, signed by the Director of Public Affairs, Reuben Muoka, said the five google chrome extensions identified have a high probability and damage potential and have been downloaded more than 1.4 million times and serve as access to steal users’ data. The telecoms sector-focused cyber-security protection team alerted telecom consumers to be cautious when installing any browser extension.
 
“The users of these chrome extensions are unaware of their invasive functionality and privacy risk. Malicious extensions monitor victims’ visits to e-commerce websites and modify the visitor’s cookie to appear as if they came through a referrer link. Consequently, the extensions’ developers get an affiliate fee for any purchases at electronic shops,” the advisory said.
   
In addition, the advisory stated that, although the google team removed several browser extensions from its Chrome Web Store, keeping malicious extensions out may be difficult. The NCC-CSIRT, thus, recommended that telecom consumers observe caution when installing any browser extension.
   
“These include removing all listed extensions from their chrome browser manually. Internet users are to pay close attention to the promptings from their browser extensions, such as the permission to run on any website visited and the data requested before installing it. Although some extensions are seemingly legit, due to the high number of user downloads, these hazardous add-ons make it imperative for users to ascertain the authenticity of extensions they access,” the advisory added.
 
Google Chrome extensions are software programmes that can be installed into Chrome to change the browser’s functionality. This includes adding new features to Chrome or modifying the existing behaviour of the programme itself to make it more convenient for the user. They serve purposes such as block ads, integration with password managers and sourcing coupons as items sent to a shopping cart.
   
The CSIRT is the telecoms sector’s cyber security incidence centre set up by the NCC to focus on incidents in the telecom sector and as they may affect telecom consumers and citizens at large.