Pakistan electoral rigging outsourced to Montreal

News “straight out of Orwell’s 1984”:

bq. To deny hackers any chance of destroying Pakistan’s already tumultuous parliamentary elections, lists with the names of all 80 million eligible Pakistani voters in the Feb. 18 election are being stored behind firewalls on a secure computer system in Canada.

In other news, there is no internet. Really. Otherwise why the hell does it matter whether the lists are in Kathmundu or stored in a server in Alaska?

bq. “It’s a completely locked system,” said Hayee Bokhari, owner and president of Cronomagic Canada Inc., whose workers stayed at the company’s offices in Montreal over Christmas to complete the biggest Pakistani database every assembled.

There is no such thing as a “completely locked system”, especially one on the internet. That is one obvious sign there is something fishy here, besides the fact that Pakistan has been pending elections for months now, and they’re still having to “work over christmas”! Big statements like “biggest Pakistani database ever assembled” are also total bullshit.

bq. “Such projects usually involve several companies and this can sometimes create security problems,” Bokhari said in a telephone interview from Canada. “But nobody knows how we did it because we did it all ourselves. There is no 100 per cent solution, but in tests that we have run we did all right. Hackers that we deal with it tried to get in and couldn’t.”

Right. To create a simple database of names and districts. Right. Multiple companies. My ass. Any idiot with internet access can figure out how they did it, and it probably wasn’t the right way.

bq.. Digesting the huge amount of information kept half a dozen servers in Montreal busy. And one of the biggest challenges was to render all the names and other details in a secure, non-English format. In particular, Urdu, the official national language of Pakistan, is written and programmed for computers in the reverse direction from English and other western languages.

“There was not much money in it but it was a real challenge for my team,” said Bokhari, the only project member in Canada who could read Urdu script. “We had to get this all done in two weeks.”

p. 80 million names is a drop in the ocean. Why the fuck did they create it in two weeks when the government has been saying it’s going to hold elections any time now for the last 12 months? Why is the government Pakistan hiring people who don’t even know Urdu to assemble a list in Urdu? there are so many things wrong here…

bq. All the electoral data are stored on a state-of-the art system in Canada, similar to that used by banks and Hydro Quebec because “they could not meet the server, hardware and bandwidth requirements,” in Pakistan, said Bokhari, who emigrated from Pakistan 17 years ago.

Of course, Pakistan doesn’t have banks, computers, or internet bandwidth so they couldn’t store the list here. Who is this joker trying to fool? I really thought this article was a joke till I looked up a few other sources, and it’s true – Pakistan’s voter list has been outsourced to Canada, of all places!

bq. IFES has also advised the election commission on how to deal with nearly 1,000 complaints already filed by political parties and individuals alleging electoral chicanery in a country with weak democratic traditions and a long history of vote buying, vote rigging and politically motivated violence on the campaign trail.

p. Great advice – move the lists out of the country so the government can tamper with them as they please. Why buy votes when you can just flip a few bits!

bq. “Our concern was not so much the actual physical security of the data, but that someone could hack his way in and shut everything down,” said Staffan Darnolf, country director of IFES Pakistan.

p. Another acroynm organization who still hasn’t heard of the internet. I’ll repeat it again – if it’s on the internet, it’s hackable from anywhere in the world. Security is no reason to locate it in Canada.

bq. “It also had to be a fast connection because we expect a lot of Pakistanis will want to check their voter information and because there are so many Pakistanis in the diaspora who will also be interested in this.”

p. Yes, accessing a server in Canada is so much faster from Pakistan than accessing one right here. This is the goddamned government of Pakistan – they have all the bandwidth they need.

bq. Asim Lateef of Smartrix Solutions, the wholly owned Pakistani subsidiary of Cronomagic, said that the “primary requirements were that it had to be absolutely secure and able to handle a huge volume of traffic because we anticipate millions of hits per minute when we go online.”

Jesus christ. There aren’t millions of Pakistanis online, let alone anyone who knows the voting lists are online. I’m as online a Pakistani as you get, and I just found about this today. How will the 75 million Pakistani’s on the list without computers and internet access it anyways? Where the hell are they expecting this millions of hits from anyway? The CIA? They probably have their own copy.

bq.. The voter lists were about to be made public by the election commission when former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated following a campaign rally on Dec. 27.

“We have had our test phase and we are ready,” Lateef said. “It is now a matter of getting the go-ahead from the election commission.”

p. Why is it that the local newspapers and TV haven’t even mentioned any online electoral list yet?

bq.. When that happens, search requests by Pakistanis will flow from across Pakistan to Lahore and then to Montreal through multiple fibre-optic lines. Searchers can check voter rolls by either typing in names or national identity numbers, which may be a better method as many Pakistanis have similar names.

p. Why Lahore? What the hell kind of system is this? And if they’re passing through Lahore, why all the way to Montreal? Give more people time to intercept and hack it along the way? This whole thing is a joke.

bq.. Bokhari said he was happy to undertake the challenge.

“I hope it can show Pakistanis that nothing is impossible if you go for it. I have always wanted to help Pakistan and I am glad that I have been able to give something back.”

p. I, for one, am not glad.

This whole thing reads like a bad joke. The only purpose of having the list in Canada is that after the rigged elections results come out the government will be able to blame it on Canada.

I can see Musharraf saying on national TV already: _”But we had nothing to do with the electoral list, it was stored in ‘secure’ server in Canada!”_

*Update:* Regarding the not much money part, the “Washington Post reports”:

bq.. The U.S. budget for election assistance in Pakistan is $28 million. In July, Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South Asia, **told Congress that $20 million had gone toward supporting the Election Commission’s work** and that U.S. officials were “doing everything we can to support free and fair elections.”

*The single largest contribution to that effort has been the $10 million the United States spent on computerizing the new voter rolls, a program that officials broadly defend, while acknowledging problems.*

14 thoughts on “Pakistan electoral rigging outsourced to Montreal”

  1. BRAVO — a standing ovation for the rant….. heck it was simply fun reading it let alone worry about where my election voter list has gone – right into the hands of 😉 NSA !!!! might I add – truly genius

  2. That sure is interesting, frustrating and embarrassing. Was the actual SIZE of the data mentioned anywhere? My guestimate is that 80 million records should take up something from a few hundred GBs to a few TB uncompressed. That kind of data would fit the hard disks on my desk right now, and every small ISP/IT firm can afford plenty of load-balancing and redundant servers these days. How does this differ from the NADRA data?

    The guy in Canada is talking about the space/bandwidth limitations in Pakistan, while the guy in charge here is talking about the security of the data.

    So now that the data is there, what about the bandwidth that is required to access the data? The bandwidth required for millions of hits per sec has to come from somewhere!

    I remember seeing a quote from a local firm to ‘computerize’ a provincial government from 5 years ago – 70 or so PIII machines, two PRINTERS, an intranet, all networked together, for 20 Million Rs. “There was not much money in it” … yea right.

  3. 80 million records – a simple calculation, say each record takes up 16kb – which is enough to store a whole lot of info then: 16 kilobits * 80 million = 152.587891 gigabytes

    Even if it’s 32kb per record and you end up with 300 gigs. Not much data at all.

    There are approx 150 words in a kb, so even 4kb per record gives you 600 words – which should be enough! After all, they are not storing life histories of people here, just names, districts and id card numbers. Doubling that to 8kb gives 75 gigs of data – which seems like the most likely number we’re dealing with here.

  4. And btw… the data is not important in itself. These lists get displayed in every constituency and I think are available at request of the ECP.

    As far as serving the requests goes, they’re not serving videos that they need good bandwidth. There are about 1.2 million internet users in Pakistan and for these verifications or checking I’m sure every cyber cafe will open a hot spot where you can access the site and find out whether your name is in the list or not. The data served per request is less than a hundred bytes and judging by most hits per day for any govt site, i’m sure this number will not go above a few thousand per day. I think my Akhtar used as a web server for NADRA once on a 256kbps line-of-sight connection can handle that amount.

    That’s for having idiots as consultants for naive govt servants.

  5. They are anything but idiots! It takes a certain kind of genius to make a project out of nothing, get an American 4 letter-acroynm’ed entity to back you up, project yourself as a hero for securing a whole country’s sensitive data, and getting access to valuable data to mine, free publicity and [not much] money in the process. That’s sheer genius I’d say.

    Now all the “terrorists” need to do is kill our connection to the internet around election day.

  6. Hahaha.. i don’t know what ideas u have but this particular dataset will not be used DURING the election. This is just for verification before the election. The rigging of elections will have no bearing whatsoever even if this data gets hacked.

  7. This dataset is pretty important – this is the list present at the polling booths against which they check when you go to vote.

    Also, this list allows you to vote on behalf of people who didn’t vote – and link them to real people.

    In the last elections, a lot of people couldn’t cast their votes because for whatever reason their names were missing from the list.

  8. Again, it has no bearing on the election results or how the votes are counted or how many votes actually get in the ballot boxes.

    Missing names is why these lists go public, so that people can check their names and/or find out which constituency they belong to or who to vote for. On election day, these lists are available to the officers at the polling booth (IN PRINT) who check your ID card against their records and match the name etc to the information present on the CNIC. If they find a match, they first check whether you have voted before or not (as in name already crossed out). If you haven’t they let you vote, if u have, they arrest you. Simple. Online data never comes into play during elections.

  9. Do Canada, USA, UK or EU have their electoral rolls on a web site?

    If not then why not?

    Why then has ECP embarked on this venture?

  10. The site is only in Urdu, and has lots of missing names from the few I searched for. Not having a urdu keyboard makes it pretty tough to use also. Considering it’s just listing to a database, the search page should be in all the official languages of Pakistan, not just Urdu.

    Shaji, how can you keep on saying that this list has no bearing on the votes when this is the list the voting is conducted against?

  11. perhaps they are just faking to have it stored offshore. That creates a lot of loopholes for the little money thats in it.

Comments are closed.