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Hacking an election is about influence and disruption, not voting machines

Steve Ragan | Oct. 6, 2016
Election systems have problems, sure, but voters are the larger, softer target

Soft targets

As mentioned, the topic of election hacking is usually only discussed during election season, but this year is different, because someone is actually hacking political targets, including Hilary Clinton and voter registration databases.

In August, someone leaked an Amber TLP memo from the FBI, this was unusual because advisories such as this rarely go public.

The leaked memo cites details released by MS-ISAC (Multi-State Information Sharing Analysis Center), stating that foreign actors are using common scanning tools to locate and compromise vulnerable election systems in Illinois and Arizona. Salted Hash covered the memo at length, including all of the technical details released by MS-ISAC and the FBI.

Recently, reports of two additional voter registration system compromises have started to circulate online. However, these rumors are only supported by anonymous sources cited by ABC News. One of the suspected states, Florida, denied that there were any problems.

On September 28 FBI Director James Comey told the House Judiciary Committee "there's no doubt that some bad actors have been poking around" on voter registration systems.

"There have been a variety of scanning activities, which is a preamble for potential intrusion activities as well as some attempted intrusions at voter registration databases beyond those we knew about in July and August. We are urging the states just to make sure that their deadbolts are thrown and their locks are on, and to get the best information they can from DHS just to make sure their systems are secure," Comey said in response to questions.

"And again, these are the voter registration systems. 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 – it's Marry and Fred putting a machine under the basketball hoop at the gym. Those things are not connected to the internet, but the voter registration systems are."

Twenty-four hours earlier, on Sept. 27, Jeh C. Johnson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, his agency has reached out with offers of assistance to state and election officials.

The DHS offer includes remotely conducted cyber hygiene scans on internet-facing systems; on-site risk and vulnerability assessments; access to the NCCIC 24x7 incident response center; sharing of relevant information on cyber incidents and best practices; and access to field-based cybersecurity and protective security advisers.

" date, 18 states have requested our assistance," Johnson said.

It's important to remember that the registration databases in Arizona and Illinois were targeted and compromised via common tools and methods. The attackers, whoever they were, didn't need to be advanced or highly skilled, they just needed to know how to click a button and download results.


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