Society

Report: Russia Hacking Of US Voter Systems Widespread

| by Robert Fowler

The federal investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 presidential election has reportedly found that cyber intrusions into U.S. voter databases were widespread, far exceeding the scope that was previously made public.

On June 13, three sources familiar with the investigation disclosed that hackers employed by Russian intelligence had infiltrated voting systems in 39 states, Bloomberg reports.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security began its investigation in Illinois, where a contactor detected a data breach in July 2016. They found that Russian hackers had infiltrated the state's voter database and compromised up to 90,000 voter records.

The FBI and DHS also found that Russian hackers unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the Illinois voter database. It is not clear if Russian infiltration of the database had any impact on the election results in the state.

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The federal probe, extrapolating its methods in Illinois, detected similar cyber intrusions in various election systems of 38 other states.

Sources familiar with the probe revealed that the Obama administration was deeply concerned by the prospect of Russian intelligence disrupting voter databases and prioritized ensuring election integrity over addressing the release of stolen files from the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign.

In October 2016, the Obama administration reportedly confronted the Russian government with evidence of election meddling through the so-called cyber "red phone," a secure messaging channel established in 2011. It was the first time that the U.S. used the communication channel.

During that communication, former President Barack Obama reportedly warned that a Russian disruption of the 2016 election day would prompt a potential armed conflict, according to NBC News.

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The federal probe found that Russian intelligence continued its hacking attempts even after the red phone communication.

On June 5, it was disclosed that the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate had stolen election data from a private U.S. company in August 2016 for the purpose of masquerading as a software company to infiltrate local election officials' computers, according to a top-secret National Security Agency document obtained by The Intercept.

"The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to… launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations," the NSA document stated.

It remains unclear if Russian intelligence tampered with any votes during the 2016 election, but evidence suggested that they attempted to manipulate voter registrations. The concern among federal officials is that the Russian government will use the data they obtained during the 2016 election to disrupt future U.S. elections. 

During his June 8 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, former FBI Director James Comey warned of future Russian cyber attacks, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not hesitate to undermine Democrats and Republicans in the future.

"Oh, it's a long-term practice of theirs… and it's not a Republican thing or Democratic thing," Comey said, according to The New York Times. "It really is an American thing. They're going to come for whatever party they choose to try and work on behalf of… And they will be back."

Sources: Bloomberg, The Intercept, NBC NewsThe New York Times / Photo Credit: Kremlin.ru/Wikimedia Commons

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