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.
Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cyber security experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department.
Johnson emphasized in the call that Homeland Security was not aware of “specific or credible cybersecurity threats” to the election, officials said. But three days after that call, the FBI Cyber Division issued a potentially more disturbing warning, entitled “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems.” The alert, labeled as restricted for “NEED TO KNOW recipients,” disclosed that the bureau was investigating cyberintrusions against two state election websites this summer, including one that resulted in the “exfiltration,” or theft, of voter registration data. “It was an eye opener,” one senior law enforcement official said of the bureau’s discovery of the intrusions. “We believe it’s kind of serious, and we’re investigating.”
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.
So yes, this is kind of a big deal. My first question is "which foreign power is behind this" and the obvious answer is Donald Trump's friends in Moscow, although that may not be the correct answer. But the thought that foreign hackers are mucking around in state voting databases should be disturbing to everyone. The potential for dirty tricks here could be devastating, especially in a contested state like Arizona or majorly populated one like Illinois.
We'll see how the FBI handles this.