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FBI: Russian Hackers Breached Election-System Computers

FBI: Russian Hackers Breached Election-System Computers

FBI Director James Comey (YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 29 August 2016 08:42 PM

The FBI is investigating hacking attacks on at least two state election boards, one of which resulted in data being stolen, according to an alert from the agency’s cyber division. 

"The FBI is requesting that states contact their Board of Elections and determine if any similar activity to their logs, both inbound and outbound, has been detected," the agency warned in the alert issued on Aug. 18.

The FBI alerted Arizona officials in June that Russian hackers were behind the assault on the election system in that state, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The bureau told Arizona officials that the threat was “credible” and severe, ranking as “an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10,” said Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan shut down the state voter registration system for almost a week. The Post identified the other state as Illinois. Officials there discovered an intrusion into their state voter registration system in July.

The hackers did not alter any data but the intrusion into the Illinois database marks the first succesful compromise of a state election database, federal officials told the Post.

“This was a highly sophisticated attack most likely from a foreign (international) entity,” said Kyle Thomas, director of voting and registration systems for the Illinois State Board of Elections, in a message that was sent to all election authorities in the state, the Post reported.

Details were still sketchy late Monday, but one federal official told Politico that what the United States facing was something entirely new in cyber-warfare.

“There’s never been an alert like that before that we know of,” said the person, who requested anonymity.

The majority of data stolen from one state’s board of elections website occurred in July, while an attempt to hack into the election system of another state was made in August, according to the alert, which didn’t identify the states or what type of data was stolen. While election boards maintain voter registration data, most of that information is public. The Federal Bureau of Investigation memo was first reported Monday by Yahoo News.

U.S. officials and cybersecurity specialists have raised the possibility that foreign hackers — particularly those linked to the Russian government — might try to hack into voting systems, possibly to meddle with U.S. elections this November. Russian officials have repeatedly rejected accusations that the government is engaged in political hacking.

U.S. officials are weighing whether to designate elections as national critical infrastructure after hacking attacks on political groups including the Democratic National Committee, a move that would open up federal assistance to election officers around the country, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters this month.

But Johnson and other officials have said that rigging the outcome of a national election would be difficult because of the many jurisdiction and different systems used. “There’s no one federal election system,” Johnson said. “There are some 9,000 jurisdictions across this country that are involved in the election process."

FBI spokeswoman Jillian Stickels declined to comment on the alert.

"In furtherance of public-private partnerships, the FBI routinely advises private industry of various cyber threat indicators observed during the course of our investigations," she said in an e-mail. "This data is provided in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cyber criminals." 

Some experts, along with Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign, believe that Russia was behind the embarrassing email hack of the Democratic National Committee right before its national convention last month. The hacked emails showed an apparent lack of neutrality in the primary race between Clinton and Bernie Sanders, with some party officials disparaging Sanders.

If Russia, China or any other foreign government gained the ability to tamper with voter data — for instance by deleting registration records — such a hack could cast doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has already suggested that the system is "rigged." He said the proof would be if he loses in November.

“I’m less concerned about the attackers getting access to and downloading the information. I’m more concerned about the information being altered, modified or deleted. That’s where the real potential is for any sort of meddling in the election,” Brian Kalkin, vice president of operations for the Center for Internet Security, told the Post. His center operates the MS-ISAC, a multi-state information-sharing center that helps government agencies combat cyberthreats and works closely with federal law enforcement.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has said that ma­nipu­la­tion or deletion of data is the next big cyberthreat — “the next push on the envelope.”

“I think he’s just unleashed the hounds,” said Tom Kellermann, head of Strategic Cyber Ventures, referring to Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Kellermann told Politico that the intrusions fit the “modus operandi and the ultimate goal” of a long-standing Russian digital intelligence campaign targeting foreign government officials in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere. The target, he said, is nothing less than the American election process.

Material from Bloomberg and the Associated Press was used in this article.


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The FBI is investigating hacking attacks on at least two state election boards, one of which resulted in data being stolen, according to an alert from the agency's cyber division. The FBI is requesting that states contact their Board of Elections and determine if any...
US, State Election Systems, Hack
Monday, 29 August 2016 08:42 PM
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