FBI says at least two state electronic balloting systems have been hacked

(Cyberwar.news) The FBI says it has uncovered evidence that electronic balloting systems in at least two states have been hacked recently, prompting fears that foreign actors or unaligned hacking collectives may attempt to alter the November elections.

As reported by Yahoo News, the discovery has prompted the FBI to warn election officials all over the country to bolster cybersecurity of electronic voting systems, many of which are more than a decade old and are running on old software that has not received recent security upgrades.

Federal and state law enforcement officials said that the FBI warning came in a “flash” alert from the bureau’s Cyber Division. Yahoo News obtained a copy of the warning, noting that it comes amid growing concerns among U.S. intelligence agencies about potential cyber intrusions of state balloting systems, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers who seek to alter the results of the November elections.

The growing concerns prompted Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to hold a teleconference with election officials from all states Aug. 15, where he offered the department’s assistance in shoring up cybersecurity for state electronic balloting systems by scanning for vulnerabilities.

Johnson said in the call that DHS was not currently aware of any “specific or credible cybersecurity threats” to the election. But just days after that phone call, the FBI’s Cyber Division issued its own warning, titled, “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems,” Yahoo News reported.

The alert was restricted and labeled as “NEED TO KNOW recipients,” and it disclosed that the FBI was looking into cyber intrusions against directed against a pair of state election websites over the summer. One of those intrusions involved “exfiltration,” or theft, of voter registration data.

“It was an eye opener,” one senior law enforcement official said of the discovery, according to Yahoo News. “We believe it’s kind of serious, and we are investigating.”

The FBI’s bulletin did not identify which state systems were affected, but sources familiar with the warning said it refers to targeting by suspected foreign hackers of voter registration databases located in Illinois and Arizona.

In the case of Illinois, officials were forced to shut down the voter registration system for 10 days in late July after hackers were able to download the personal information of as many as 200,000 state voters, according Ken Menzel, general counsel of the Illinois Board of Elections, Yahoo News reported.

The attack on Arizona’s systems was more limited, the web site reported, but it involved insertion of malicious software into the voter registration system. No exfiltration of data was found, according to a state official.

“The FBI is requesting that states contact their Board of Elections and determine if any similar activity to their logs, both inbound and outbound, has been detected,” the alert reads. “Attempts should not be made to touch or ping the IP addresses directly.”

In recent weeks, hackers U.S. intelligence officials say were working on behalf of Russia managed to infiltrate IT systems belonging to the Democratic National Committee and the presidential campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, as well as some Republican lawmakers.

“This is a big deal,” Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer for ThreatConnect, a cybersecurity firm, who reviewed the FBI alert at the request of Yahoo News, said. “Two state election boards have been popped, and data has been taken. This certainly should be concerning to the common American voter.”

Earlier this month during a campaign speech, GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump voiced concerns that the November election results could be “rigged,” though many believed he was referring to voter fraud, not hacking of balloting systems.

“I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged. I have to be honest,” Trump said during a campaign stop in Ohio.

His comments were attacked as conspiratorial by the Clinton campaign, ironically, given that it had also been hit by hackers. But Trump may have been onto something, given the FBI’s warning.

Though some states have refused DHS assistance in ramping up cybersecurity of their electronic balloting systems, the FBI’s warning is likely to increase pressure by DHS on states to allow for more federal assistance, Yahoo News reported.

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