DHS logged scores of suspicious cyber incidents targeting election systems before midterms: Report

November 6, 2018

Federal officials logged scores of suspicious incidents targeting election infrastructure in the weeks prior to Tuesday’s midterms, including attacks against voter registration databases and other efforts reminiscent of the 2016 race.

The Department of Homeland Security recorded more than 160 instances of suspected attempts at election interference between August and October 2018, The Boston Globe reported Monday, citing internal DHS intelligence documents.

Hackers attacked vote registration databases and computer networks across the country in the race’s final weeks, according to the documents, with DHS logging up to 10 incident a day as of late last month, the newspaper reported.

One of the attacks resulted in the compromise of an unidentified city government computer system, and a separate incident targeting a top election official was described by DHS as having “limited success,” the report said.

“This does not mean that our partners are seeing an increase in cyber threats to their networks,” DHS spokesman Scott McConnell said in a statement, The Hill reported. “DHS is committed to sharing timely and actionable information, like what is outlined in the intelligence report, with our elections partners.”

Reported on the eve of Tuesday’s midterms, the incidents raise questions about the integrity of the election in light of the Trump administration repeatedly touting measures taken to defend against the sorts of meddled witnessed during the 2016 race, when alleged Russian state-sponsored hackers waged a multi-pronged campaign that compromised victims ranging from voting databases to the Democratic Party.

“This is going to be the most secure election we’ve ever had,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last week. “But as we all know, this is a dynamic threat, it changes by the minute.”

Ms. Nielsen’s comments were preceded by DHS detecting a flurry of suspicious activity, including dozens of attacks waged by foreign-based hackers during the past two weeks, The Globe reported.

On Oct. 23, for example, a senior official in charge of an unnamed state’s election process “had a personal social media account hacked and reregistered to a Russian e-mail provider,” The Globe reported.

More recently, at least six states reported suspicious activity during the last week of October, the report said, including thousands of thwarted attempts from foreign internet connections to access various voter databases and election security systems.

In another incident, meanwhile, an unidentified city government computer system was compromised to an unknown extent following repeated attempts to breach accounts belonging to various city employees in August, the report said.

“To be clear, we have not attributed any of this activity to a nation-state, nor do we have any reason to believe it to be part of a broader campaign,” Mr. McConnell, the DHS spokesperson, told The Hill.

“DHS and our state and local election partners are aware of the ongoing threats to election infrastructure and we continue to work every day to secure and increase the resilience of our nation’s elections,” he said.

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