U.S. of­fi­cial: Hack­ers tar­geted elec­tion sys­tems of 20 states

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Tami Abdollah As­so­ci­ated Press

WASH­ING­TON>> Hack­ers have tar­geted the voter reg­is­tra­tion sys­tems of more than 20 states in re­cent months, a Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment of­fi­cial said Fri­day.

The dis­clo­sure comes amid height­ened con­cerns that for­eign hack­ers might un­der­mine voter con­fi­dence in the in­tegrity of U.S. elec­tions. Fed­eral of­fi­cials and many cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­perts have said it would be nearly im­pos­si­ble for hack­ers to al­ter an elec­tion’s out­come be­cause elec­tion sys­tems are very de­cen­tral­ized and gen­er­ally not con­nected to the in­ter­net.

The of­fi­cial who de­scribed de­tect­ing the hacker ac­tiv­ity was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the sub­ject and spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press on con­di­tion of anonymity. It was un­clear, the of­fi­cial said, whether the hack­ers were for­eign or do­mes­tic, or what their mo­tives might be. ABC News ear­lier re­ported that more than 20 states were tar­geted.

The FBI last month warned state of­fi­cials of the need to im­prove their elec­tion se­cu­rity af­ter hack­ers tar­geted sys­tems in Illi­nois and Ari­zona. FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey told law­mak­ers this week that the agency is look­ing “very, very hard” at Rus­sian hack­ers who may try to dis­rupt the U.S. elec­tion.

Last month, Don­ald Trump, the GOP nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent, sug­gested that he feared the gen­eral elec­tion “is go­ing to be rigged.”

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment has stepped up its out­reach to states and lo­cal­i­ties, but it is up to them to ask for help. So far, 19 states have ex­pressed in­ter­est in a gen­eral “cy­ber hy­giene” scan of key web­sites — akin to en­sur­ing that win­dows in a home are prop­erly closed, ac­cord­ing to an­other Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cial di­rectly in­volved in se­cur­ing lo­cal elec­tions who also was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly about on­go­ing ef­forts.

The FBI has de­tected a va­ri­ety of “scan­ning ac­tiv­i­ties” that are early in­di­ca­tions of hack­ing, Comey told the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee this week.

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Jeh John­son spoke to state elec­tion of­fi­cials by phone last month, en­cour­ag­ing them to im­ple­ment ex­ist­ing tech­ni­cal rec­om­men­da­tions to se­cure their elec­tion sys­tems and en­sure that elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines are not con­nected to the in­ter­net.

DHS is of­fer­ing more com­pre­hen­sive, on-site risk and vul­ner­a­bil­ity checks. Only four states have ex­pressed in­ter­est in the as­sess­ment, and be­cause the elec­tion is only weeks away, the depart­ment will likely only be able to con­duct an as­sess­ment of one state be­fore Elec­tion Day on Nov. 8, the of­fi­cial said.

Rep. Henry John­son, D-Ga., in­tro­duced two bills ear­lier this month that would re­quire vot­ing sys­tems be des­ig­nated as crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture and limit pur­chases of new vot­ing sys­tems that don’t pro­vide pa­per bal­lots, among other mea­sures. It’s un­likely the bills will be passed be­fore the elec­tion.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment is al­ready con­sid­er­ing des­ig­nat­ing vot­ing sys­tems as crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture in the fu­ture, though it is un­likely to hap­pen be­fore the elec­tion, the sec­ond of­fi­cial said.

SU­SAN WALSH—THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this file photo, the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment head­quar­ters in north­west Wash­ing­ton.

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