According to the F.B.I., state election databases in two states have been reportedly hacked by a foreign entity.
According to The Federalist Papers , Just weeks after the Democratic National Committee was hacked by a still unknown entity, the documents being exposed by Wikileaks, and after Hillary Clinton’s email server was also hacked, some foreign actor is trying to meddle in American elections.
Yahoo News reported the FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.
The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections.
The bulletin does not identify the states in question, but sources familiar with the document say it refers to the targeting by suspected foreign hackers of voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. In the Illinois case, officials were forced to shut down the state’s voter registration system for ten days in late July, after the hackers managed to download personal data on up to 200,000 state voters, Ken Menzel, the general counsel of the Illinois Board of Elections, said in an interview. The Arizona attack was more limited, involving malicious software that was introduced into its voter registration system but no successful exfiltration of data, a state official said.
Barger noted that that one of the IP addresses listed in the FBI alert has surfaced before in Russian criminal underground hacker forums. He also said the method of attack on one of the state election systems — including the types of tools used by the hackers to scan for vulnerabilities and exploit them — appear to resemble methods used in other suspected Russian state-sponsored cyberattacks, including one just this month on the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The FBI did not respond to detailed questions about the alert, saying in a statement only that such bulletins are provided “to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cyber criminals.” Menzel, the Illinois election official, said that in a recent briefing, FBI agents confirmed to him that the perpetrators were believed to be foreign hackers, although they were not identified by country. He said he was told that the bureau was looking at a “possible link” to the recent highly publicized attack on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations, which U.S. officials suspect was perpetrated by Russian government hackers.
What sort of data these hackers obtained is still not yet clear.
This kind of hack is something that should cause great concern for every American. The integrity of elections, whatever the outcome, is a sacred thing in a representative republic. The people’s choice of legislators must be something not compromised by foreign attackers bent on undermining free and fair American elections.
This sort of hacking is something that some voting districts should be very concerned about, as Yahoo discusses.
About 40 states use optical-scan electronic-voting machines, allowing voters to fill out their choices on paper. The results are tabulated by computers.
These are “reasonably safe” because the voting machines are backed up by paper ballots that can be checked, says Andrew W. Appel, a Princeton University computer science professor who has studied election security. But six states and parts of four others (including large swaths of Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state in this year’s race) are more vulnerable because they rely on paperless touchscreen voting, known as DREs or Direct-Recording Electronic voting machines, for which there are no paper ballot backups.
If hackers can obtain access to the voter databases, there is no reason why they cannot access the voting machines themselves. And even if there is a paper backup, what good does that do if the voter’s selection if changed via a virus in the machine?
A voter could click one candidate’s name, but a virus from hackers could cause that ballot to be cast for the opposite candidate.
Earlier in August, CBS held a TV interview discussing this very issue.
As one of the hosts stated, it’s kind of ironic to think that paper and pencil may be the best way to hold elections. And you know what, with each hack that is revealed, that sentiment is proved more and more correct.
One of the facts that the hosts did seem to kind of lament was that the voting system is so disorganized, in that each state sets up their own standards for voting; that is, it is ostensibly disorganized.
There is organization, it is simply decentralized. By keeping the system decentralized, it prevents hacks on a national level, which would be far more terrifying and damaging.
The answer to this is not a federal takeover of the election system, as I am sure some will ask for. The states, in their own power, need to ensure the security and continuing stability of their respective election systems.
For now, the FBI better get to work to figure out who is behind the attack.