Officials at Parisian entertainment and media company Vivendi Universal
suspect foul play and have filed a generic criminal claim
Monday morning against those responsible for virtually hijacking votes at a
recent shareholders meeting.
The security breach throws the entire process of online interaction at
Vivendi into question and could result in a throwback measure of
20th-century paper votes, negating the benefits of gathering thousands of
shareholders together and conducting “real-time” voting.
Officials were tipped off to the possible hack after going over the voting
numbers of their Friday online meeting and noticing glaring discrepancies
— enough to warrant contacting the French version of the U.S. Securities
and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commission des Operations de Bourse (COB).
After tallying the votes to 19 different resolutions, officials found an
unusually high number of “abstentions,” much more than the normal 3-5
percent for a given shareholder proposal. The votes Friday showed as many
as 20 percent of the votes were abstentions.
Talking with some of the major shareholders after the meeting who
supposedly abstained from some of the proposals (which in France is the
same as voting “nay”), officials found a glaring discrepancy. Most of
those tallied as abstentions had, in fact, voted for approval in many cases.
Anita Larsen, Vivendi spokesperson, said the tampering is a serious
violation of the trust shareholders place with online voting, and officials
will file against the perpetrators when they are caught.
“We’re absolutely shocked about it,” she said. “We do not know who did it,
but we will file a criminal claim (against them), so they will be
identified and tried. We are encouraging the major shareholders affected
to file similarly and hope other, smaller shareholders do the same.”
In all, more than 5,000 shareholders making up the voting power at Vivendi.
Vivendi officials are taking the hijacked voting system breach mostly
seriously, given how the results of shareholder meetings can affect stock
value, revenues and even the business goals of the industry giant going
Security experts believe the alleged hackers used short-wave transmitters
in the proximity of the Vivendi vote, using “detailed knowledge of the
procedures and technical protocols of electronic voting,” the release
Sunday evening stated.
A meeting is scheduled for Monday to convene a shareholders meeting in
early June, to resubmit the proposals. At this time, Larsen said officials
aren’t sure whether they will conduct another online vote at this time. If
not, they will go back to the old method of paper votes via the mail.
Vivendi officials say the hack could have business-wide implications,
throwing doubt on any company using electronic voting or thinking about
such a move online.
A promised stock dividend has been put on hold until the Vivendi network
inspection is complete.
The issue of cyber crime has taken an increasingly prominent role in the
minds of the business world and governments across the globe. The European
Union, addressing those concerns, last week proposed an all-encompassing cyber crime initiative, which would make the penalties for security
breaches like the one at Vivendi last Friday severe.