‘I think it's fair to say there are more states out there that have been hacked and don't know it ,' a former DHS official tells The Daily Beast.”>
The FBI says that computer hackers accessed, and in one case stole, voter registration files in two states, potentially compromising personal information and putting crucial election data at risk only three months before voters head to the polls.
And if that werent unsettling enough, the techniques that the hackers employed were neither sophisticated nor especially hard to employ, proving that its not just high-end hackers from foreign governments, like the ones believed to be targeting U.S. political organizations, that elections officials need to worry about in the runup to November.
I dont believe everyone can assume that these vulnerabilities would be unique to these states, Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit group that advocates transparency and security in U.S. elections, told The Daily Beast. This is a time when presuming is not the best thing to do.
The FBIs analysis of the hacks, contained in a security alert first reported by Yahoo News, shows that Arizonas elections website was penetrated in June use a common vulnerability thats well known to security experts. Then, in July, Illinois voter files were accessed apparently use stolen login credentials, which could have been obtained by spear phishing a state employee.( The FBI didnt identify the victims by name in the alert, but experts familiar with the cases pointed out that they match reported hacks in Arizona and Illinois, where officials have acknowledged the intrusions .)
On the scale of hacker sophistication, these attacks rank on the low-end, relative children play for the kinds of skilled operators that U.S. officials suspect may have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Democrat and Republican lawmakers in an attempt to sow chaos in the presidential elections. Theres no hard evidence yet that the same crew, believed to be working for the Russian government, was at work in the states. But the hacks be underlined that these states and others present easy targets. Experts predicted that Arizona and Illinois won't turn out to be the only victims.
I think its fair to say there are more states out there that have been hacked and dont know it, or that are being hacked and are trying to deal with it softly, David Heyman, a former assistant secretary at the Homeland Security Department, told The Daily Beast.
For the past few weeks, the Homeland Security Department and computer security experts have been alerting state and local elections officials to be on special alert for hackers targeting voting systems, including electronic voting booths, tabulating machines, and voter registration files that are stored online. The assaults on Arizona and Illinois suggest that officials fears were well-founded.
This is serious, Heyman told. Actual tampering of voter registration files, or even the prospect of tampering, can very well put in question the integrity of the election. And in an electoral where some are already questioning if the system is rigged, this could easily undermine confidence in the system, or worse, sow doubt in actual election results and weaken the ability for a winning candidate to govern.
Heyman and other experts noted that hackers dont need to actually hijack a voting machine or alter ballot-counting software to undermine confidence in results of the election. Simply the believable claim that an electoral had been tinkered with could compel a candidates supporters to cry foul.
And one candidate, of course, already is. Republican nominee Donald Trump has said that the only style hell lose in some key states if the election is rigged, by forces he didnt name. The now instances of election-related hacking could fuel Trumps mistrusts that vote rigging is real.
How could hackers use voter registration files to interrupt Election Day? The most worrisome scenario, experts told, would be if voters names were erased from the rolls, so that when they depicted up to vote, there was no proof theyd ever registered.
That could cause long lines, and people might have to cast provisional votes, which arent counted right away, Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida and an expert on voting systems, told The Daily Beast.
Changing or deleting voter information is the most severe menace to such records, Smith told. States vary in their rules about who can casting a provisional vote, and some of them dont let a voter to cast a selection in every race, she noted. Counting those votes requires more run that could delay reporting research results, Smith said.
There's no indication that the voter records in Arizona or Illinois were deleted or altered. But anecdotal evidence of problems with voter registration files has been circulating for months.
During the primary election in Arizona, for instance, a number of voters found that their party affiliation had been changed without their knowledge. When they depicted up to vote in the states closed primary elections, some were told they were ineligible to referendum with the party of their choice.