On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) informed 21 states that they were targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election. The DHS shared the news with those in “ownership” of voting systems, local offices or private vendors, in June, but chose to withhold the intelligence from state election officials.
After months of uproar, in which many officials complained that they needed to know how to secure their systems for future elections, the top election official of each state was notified as to whether their election systems had been breached. Among those targeted were Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington, according to the Associated Press, with California, Oregon, and Wisconsin releasing the news themselves.
Hackers failed to affect voting tallies in any way and infiltrated only two state systems, those of Illinois and Arizona, as of information currently available. Concerning the latter, the username and password of one Gila county official were stolen, but the system was not compromised. In Illinois, however, up to 90,000 voter records were breached in early July 2016, giving hackers access to names, dates of birth, driver’s licenses and partial Social Security numbers of 15 million people.
The security protocols of the remaining states proved successful in protecting computer systems from attack. As Wisconsin Elections Commission spokesman Reid Magney put it, “What this boils down to is that someone tried the door knob and it was locked.” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla echoed the grievances of dozens of other officials when he said in a statement, “It is completely unacceptable that it has taken DHS over a year to inform our office of Russian scanning of our systems, despite our repeated requests for information.”
The practice of withholding critical information from election officials is a detriment to the security of our elections and our democracy.
In January, Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that states would soon be given federal assistance in protecting their election and voter systems. This was recently followed by the preparation of a 28-member coordinating council with the purpose of sharing and receiving security intelligence and assistance. Three of the members will be from the federal government, twenty-five from the state and local level. Moreover, top election officials from each state are obtaining security clearances to receive classified information on threats to the voter system.
Photo: By Tom Arthur from Orange, CA, United States (vote for better tape) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons