The FBI issued a “flash” alert after becoming aware that two states’ voter databases were successfully penetrated by foreign hackers.
The alert, labeled as restricted for “NEED TO KNOW recipients,” disclosed that the bureau was investigating cyberintrusions against two state election websites this summer, including one that resulted in the “exfiltration,” or theft, of voter registration data. “It was an eye opener,” one senior law enforcement official said of the bureau’s discovery of the intrusions. “We believe it’s kind of serious, and we’re investigating.”
Illinois and Arizona were the two states hit by the foreign hack. Illinois had to shut down it’s system for several days after discovering that more than 200,000 voters information had been downloaded. The Arizona attack was limited to some malicious software getting installed, but no data was compromised.
These attacks illustrate the real possibility of foreign manipulation of American elections. By obtaining voter information, the hackers could vote in-place of a voter by requesting and using absentee ballots, vote online in-place of a military member or perhaps learning which voters don’t vote anymore and casting ballots in their stead.
As voting moves to electronic machines, there is growing concern that the results of an election could be affected by malicious outsiders. In 2012, a professor and his team of graduate students managed to infiltrate an online voting system and change the results of the election just days before it was to be used in an actual election:
Professor J. Alex Halderman and his grad students managed to infiltrate an online voting test bed set up by the Board of Elections and Ethics weeks before it was to be deployed for the use of overseas absentee voters. The hack, done at the board’s invitation, included Halderman’s team gaining access to cameras monitoring the BOEE server room (seen above), embedding an audio clip of the Michigan fight song into a board Web page and changing the winner in one race to Bender, cartoon robot of “Futurama” fame. It took officials 36 hours to discover anything was amiss.
The F.B.I. is urging election officials to be hyper-vigilant in protecting their systems.