Election Databases Hacked, Russian Origin Suspected

Published: August 30, 2016 9:40 PM /



On Monday, the FBI issued a bulletin to election officials around the country, urging them to take stronger security precautions after two state boards of election were targeted by hackers. The bulletin did not state which states were affected, but officials spoke to NBC and other news outlets stating that Illinois and Arizona were the states targeted by the hackers.

In Illinois, hackers are believed to have stolen records of 200,000 registered voters from the board's database. Illinois officials shut down voter registration in the state after the hack was discovered. Although hackers were successful in stealing data, the board expressed confidence that no records were deleted or altered. In Arizona, hackers infected an election official's computer with malware. Voter registration was shut down for 9 days in the state after the malware was discovered. Arizona officials don't believe the hackers were successful in stealing any data. The attacks on the state election boards are believed to be related since one of the IP addresses used by hackers was connected to both attacks.

The investigation is still in progress, but some officials are pointing to Russia as a likely culprit. Earlier in the year, the Democratic National Committee and other organizations were hacked, and Russia was also considered the most likely culprit. However, one official suggests that the evidence connecting Russia to this hack is even stronger than in the previous cases. The official told NBC, "This is the closest we've come to tying a recent hack to the Russian government." The official also added that there is "serious concern" that Russia is attempting to undermine confidence in the election process. Two other officials stated that US intelligence agencies had not yet concluded that Russia is attempting to undermine the electoral system, but are concerned that it is a possibility.

Following the hacks of the two boards of election, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson hosted a call with state election officials to discuss cyber security. Although he is not aware of any specific threat aimed at election-related networks, he called upon state officials to examine how they might improve the security of their systems. Currently, voting systems are not considered "critical infrastructure" by the Department of Homeland Security and do not receive any special protection from the federal government.

The recent hacks have caused concern among some politicians. Senate minority leader Harry Reid has written a letter to FBI director James Comey, expressing his concerns about possible attempts by the Russian government to influence the electoral process. Reid calls upon the FBI to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian hackers. His stated reason for being suspicious of Trump is the fact that Trump's campaign has stated that it is in contact with WikiLeaks, the same organization which leaked emails from the DNC hack.

How should state and federal governments deal with cyber threats to the election process? Leave your comments below.

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I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.