FBI: Foreign Hackers Broke Into State Election Systems

| by Ray Brown
Fingers on a backlit keyboardFingers on a backlit keyboard

The FBI claims it has found evidence that foreign hackers broke into the state election systems of two states.

Those states were not identified, but source told Yahoo News that voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois were recently targeted by foreign hackers.

In Arizona, a virus was uploaded to the voter registration system, but it failed to have any effect. But in Illinois, hackers downloaded personal data of up to 200,000 voters and forced officials to shut down the voter registration system for 10 days.

“It was an eye opener,” a senior law enforcement official said of the hacks, according to Yahoo News. “We believe it’s kind of serious, and we’re investigating.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he was not aware of any “specific or credible cybersecurity threats” to the election, but the FBI was more forward with its take and issued a warning titled, “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems.”

“Someone is trying to hack these databases, and they succeeded in exfiltrating data, which is significant in itself,” Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity professor in the War Studies Department at King’s College London, told Wired. “In the context of all the other attempts to interfere with this election, it’s a big deal.”

Russia is often looked at first whenever questions of hacking U.S. government enterprises occurs, and the nation is once again seen as a suspect in these cases, despite the scant evidence.

“There are elements to suggest there are Russian fingerprints on this,” Rich Barger, director of threat intelligence at ThreatConnect, a threat intelligence platform, told Wired. But Barger admitted the research is “very nascent."

"We’re still working on it," he added.

Whoever is behind the recent state election hacks, computer programming experts have warned that voting machines may be at risk, especially if talented hackers working for wealthy foreign governments are involved.

“This isn’t a crazy hypothetical anymore,” Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University, told Politico. “Once you bring nation states’ cyber activity into the game? These machines, they barely work in a friendly environment.”

Sources: Yahoo News, Wired, Politico / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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