DeSan­tis: Two coun­ties hacked

Gov­er­nor says Rus­sians in­fil­trated state elec­tion datat­bases in 2016, but no re­sults were al­tered

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Gray Rohrer

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE – Rus­sian hack­ers in­fil­trated the elec­tion data­bases of two Florida coun­ties dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion, Gov. Ron DeSan­tis said Tues­day, though he was quick to add that no votes were ma­nip­u­lated or re­sults al­tered.

“Two Florida coun­ties ex­pe­ri­enced in­tru­sion into the su­per­vi­sor of elec­tion net­works,” DeSan­tis said at a news con­fer­ence. “There was no ma­nip­u­la­tion or any­thing, but there was voter data that was able to be got. Now, that voter data was pub­lic any­ways, [but] nev­er­the­less those were in­tru­sions. It did not af­fect any voting or any­thing like that.”

The in­for­ma­tion was part of a brief­ing that DeSan­tis and state elec­tion and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials re­ceived from the FBI at the bureau’s of­fices in Tal­la­has­see last week. DeSan­tis re­quested the meet­ing af­ter ex­press­ing frus­tra­tion when the redacted re­port from spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence with the 2016 elec­tion came out in April, show­ing the FBI be­lieved “at least one” Florida county had been suc­cess­fully hacked.

But be­cause of a non-dis­clo­sure form he signed with the FBI, DeSan­tis said he couldn’t say which coun­ties were the ones in­volved.

“I would be will­ing to name it for you guys, but they asked me to do that so I’m go­ing to re­spect their wishes,” DeSan­tis said.

Although the hack­ers didn’t have ac­cess to vote-counting sys­tems, U.S. Sen. Marco Ru­bio said af­ter the Mueller re­port was made pub­lic that they were in a po­si­tion to ma­nip­u­late voter reg­is­tra­tion data. DeSan­tis said the FBI told him that didn’t oc­cur.

Hack­ers sent spearphish­ing emails to more than 120 email ad

dresses at lo­cal elec­tions of­fices around the state, ac­cord­ing to the FBI.

One sent to Vo­lu­sia County of­fi­cials was dis­guised as an email from VR Sys­tems, a Tal­la­has­see-based ven­dor that handled reg­is­tra­tion soft­ware for 52 coun­ties. But Vo­lu­sia of­fi­cials have said they did not open the at­tach­ments in the email or click links that would have al­lowed the hack­ers ac­cess to their com­put­ers.

When asked if the hack­ing was re­lated to a ven­dor, DeSan­tis said he had to be care­ful with what he could say, but noted that “the rea­son why those coun­ties got af­fected was not nec­es­sar­ily the coun­ties but it was be­cause of a pri­vate ven­dor they were us­ing.”

Of the 67 coun­ties asked via a South Florida Sun Sen­tinel records re­quest whether they re­ceived the coun­ter­feit VR Sys­tems email, 11 ac­knowl­edged they had re­ceived it, 46 replied they had no record of re­ceiv­ing it — though it still could have been blocked from their in­boxes due to spam fil­ters — and an­other 10 have not yet re­sponded to the re­quest made April 24.

Broward elec­tions su­per­vi­sor Peter An­tonacci again in­sisted Tues­day his county wasn’t among the two ac­cessed.

“There was no breach of the Broward Su­per­vi­sor of Elec­tions of any if its sys­tems in 2015 or 2016,” he said.

The brief­ing ap­peared to do lit­tle to shed light on what state of­fi­cials knew re­gard­ing the hack­ing and when they knew it.

The FBI held a brief­ing with all 67 su­per­vi­sors of elec­tions in Septem­ber 2016 to warn about Rus­sian hack­ing at­tempts. It’s still un­clear how much lo­cal of­fi­cials were told.

Ru­bio told the New York Times last month he didn’t think “the spe­cific vic­tims of the in­tru­sion have been no­ti­fied.” But DeSan­tis said Tues­day the FBI was work­ing with them in 2016.

DeSan­tis also said the lead­ers of two main state agen­cies at the time of the hack­ing, Rick Swearin­gen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Florida Depart­ment of Law En­force­ment, and then-Florida Sec­re­tary of State Ken Det­zner, were not told by the FBI of the suc­cess­ful breach.

The FBI main­tains that state em­ploy­ees on a task force with the FBI were in­formed. But DeSan­tis, who took of­fice in 2019, also said he hasn’t spo­ken about the is­sue with his pre­de­ces­sor, Rick Scott, now a U.S. Se­na­tor.

“We’re go­ing to try to fig­ure out what the state was given ac­cess to, what we knew, if there were things that we should have known we’re go­ing to ap­peal to the fed­eral govern­ment and say ‘look, this is a team ef­fort. We have an in­ter­est in mak­ing sure that this stuff ’s pre­vented,’” DeSan­tis said.

Although he praised the Florida Depart­ment of State for be­ing “proac­tive” about hack­ing at­tempts, he warned the threat has not passed and could be tried again in 2020.

“I think that threats evolve and so I don’t want to say ‘Hey, there’s no more threats,’” DeSan­tis said. “It’s just some­thing that you’ve al­ways got to be vig­i­lant about.”

South Florida Sun Sen­tinel staff writ­ers Aric Chokey and Larry Barszewski con­trib­uted to this re­port.

[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com or (850) 222-5564

STEVE CAN­NON/AP

“Two Florida coun­ties ex­pe­ri­enced in­tru­sion into the su­per­vi­sor of elec­tion net­works,” Gov. Ron DeSan­tis said at a news con­fer­ence Tues­day.

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