Feds can’t get story straight: Was Wis­con­sin’s elec­tions sys­tem tar­geted by Rus­sian hack­ers?

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page -

On Sept. 22, the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity told state elec­tions of­fi­cials that Wis­con­sin was one of 21 states tar­geted by Rus­sian hack­ers, rais­ing con­cerns about the safety and se­cu­rity of the state’s elec­tions sys­tems.

DHS main­tained that no data had been com­pro­mised.

But four days later, DHS re­versed course and told Wis­con­sin of­fi­cials the Rus­sian govern­ment did not scan the state’s voter-regis­tra­tion sys­tem. Still, the agency be­lieved Wis­con­sin was one of the states tar­geted by Rus­sian hack­ers dur­ing last year’s elec­tion cy­cle.

“Ei­ther they were right on Sept. 22 and this is a cover-up, or they were wrong on Sept. 22, and we de­serve an apol­ogy,” Mark Thom­sen, the Wis­con­sin Elec­tions Com­mis­sion’s chair­man, said in light of the new email. He’d pre­vi­ously di­rected staff to in­ves­ti­gate why state elec­tion of­fi­cials were not no­ti­fied sooner.

The DHS stands by its as­sess­ment that in­ter­net-con­nected net­works in 21 states were the tar­get of Rus­sian govern­ment cy­ber ac­tors seek­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and ac­cess to U.S. elec­tions in­fra­struc­ture, DHS spokesman Scott McCon­nell said.


The DHS ini­tially told the Elec­tions Com­mis­sion that the Rus­sians scanned the state’s in­ter­net-con­nected elec­tions in­fra­struc­ture, likely seek­ing spe­cific vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties to ac­cess voter regis­tra­tion data­bases.

Wis­con­sin’s chief elec­tions ad­min­is­tra­tor, Michael Haas, had re­peat­edly said DHS as­sured the state it had not been tar­geted.

“Wis­con­sin was not pro­vided any in­for­ma­tion that in­di­cated be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tion that Rus­sian govern­ment ac­tors were tar­get­ing elec­tion sys­tems,” Haas said.

He said one the­ory is DHS saw sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity from IP ad­dresses tar­get­ing state elec­tions sys­tems in other states and as­sumed that was the in­tent in Wis­con­sin.

“It’s been a dif­fi­cult process try­ing to piece all of this to­gether,” said Wis­con­sin Elec­tions Com­mis­sion spokesman Reid Mag­ney. “We’re try­ing to un­der­stand what hap­pened.”

The Elec­tions Com­mis­sion has es­tab­lished a cy­ber se­cu­rity team that is work­ing on a new plan to im­prove se­cu­rity be­fore the 2018 elec­tions.

Se­cu­rity en­hance­ments be­ing con­sid­ered in­clude en­crypt­ing the en­tire voter regis­tra­tion data­base to pro­tect the in­for­ma­tion and make it un­us­able to any­one who may be able to steal it, and re­quir­ing two-fac­tor au­then­ti­ca­tion for the roughly 3,000 lo­cal and state of­fi­cials who have ac­cess to the WisVote sys­tem.

Louis Weis­berg contributed to this story.

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