Russian internet hackers were behind two malicious cybersecurity breaches in state voter databases this summer, according to the FBI.
In May, the FBI warned public officials in Arizona that their voter database was vulnerable to internet hackers. Officials took the database offline for nine days to conduct a system analysis. The analysis found that the system was clean, though one county official’s personal login information had been compromised.
Then in June, hackers targeted voter registration databases in Illinois. A total of 200,000 voter records – which include names, addresses, and birth dates for registered voters – may have been accessed, though officials are confident that the records were not altered. The hack wasn’t discovered until July.
The FBI later traced an IP address that appeared in both attacks to Russia. The evidence suggests that the Kremlin may be trying to destabilize U.S. elections.
The findings come after Russian intelligence services were implicated in a series of hacking incidents involving the Democratic National Committee’s databases. Russia denied involvement.
Wikileaks released some 50,000 of the compromised DNC documents in July, though the organization did not reveal its source. The documents proved that the DNC had acted in favor of Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during the primary season and conspired to smear her Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders. DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz and several other DNC staffers later resigned over the revelations.
More recently, government officials launched an investigation into a possible Russian breach of Clinton’s computer systems. The breach closely followed comments made by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who issued an open invitation to Russia to hack Clinton’s campaign data.
“Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Trump and Russia’s de facto dictator Vladimir Putin have expressed mutual admiration for each other, though recent reports indicate that Trump’s campaign, too, has been penetrated by Russian hackers.
Despite the scale of the breach, Ken Menzel, General Counsel for the Illinois Board of Elections, said that the board is unconcerned about the hack’s effect on the upcoming elections.
“I don’t think there was a great deal of opportunity here to impact the November election. The voter database is entirely segregated and entirely separate from anything that has to do with voting results and tallies and the like.”
Voting machines in Illinois are not connected to the internet, though in many locations around the nation they are. Independent analyses of voting systems have concluded that they are poorly protected against hackers. And because the Department of Homeland Security has not deemed them “critical infrastructure,” they are not subject to federal safeguards and standards.