Hackers affiliated with the Russian government are suspected to have targeted U.S. voter registration systems in fifteen states, and four of those systems have been successfully infiltrated. The extent of the breach is much higher than the government is willing to acknowledge, sources tell ABC News.
“There’s no doubt that some bad actors have been poking around,” FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers Wednesday, without providing additional details. Comey admitted that there have been “some attempted intrusions at voter databases” since August, when the FBI issued a warning to state governments that hackers had infiltrated the Illinois State Board of elections and tried to breach Arizona’s election systems. He stressed that hackers are targeting the voter registration databases, not the voting system.
“This is very different than the vote system in the United States, which is very, very hard for someone to hack into because it’s so clunky and dispersed,” Comey said, adding that states should be in contact with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and “make sure that their deadbolts are thrown and their locks are on.”
DHS chief Jeh Johnson said during a House hearing on Tuesday that eighteen states had contacted his department seeking assistance to protect their election systems.
Andy Ozment, the assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS told lawmakers on Wednesday that hackers who infiltrated the election systems in Illinois and Arizona appeared to have been looking to extract personal information and possibly sell that information online. The goal did not seem to be the alteration of the election process, he said.
“We have not seen intrusions intended to in any way impact individuals’ votes and actual voting,” Ozment said. Other top government officials added that the cyberattack could not alter the 2016 election results.
The FBI has been conducting investigations on coordinated cyberattacks on Democratic organizations for months-the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been the most harmful yet.
Stolen information from the hack revealed opposition research on Republican nominee Donald Trump, and many believe that it lead to the theft of internal messages that appeared to show DNC’s efforts to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Following the public release of those internal emails by WikiLeaks, Florida Representative, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned from her position as DNC’s chairwoman. Many believe that the Russian affiliated hackers are responsible for these cyberattacks on Democratic organizations.
According to the FBI, in June an “unknown actor scanned a state’s Board of Election website for vulnerabilities” and found a gap in the security system. The hacker then exploited the cybersecurity vulnerability to conduct an unauthorized data transfer. Later, in August, hackers exploited the same vulnerability in an “attempted intrusion activities into another state’s Board of Election system,” said the FBI.
When asked why Russia might be trying to undermine the U.S. political process, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “paranoid about the potential for revolutions in Russia and of course they see a U.S. conspiracy behind every bush, and ascribe far more impact than we’re actually guilty of. They believe we’re trying to influence political developments in Russia, we’re trying to affect change, and so their natural response is to retaliate and do unto us as they think we’ve done to them,” he said.