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Illinois wasn’t the only hacked state elections board

Monday, Aug 29, 2016

* We talked about the Illinois hack last month, but Michael Isikoff has more

The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.

The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections.

Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cyber security experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department.

Johnson emphasized in the call that Homeland Security was not aware of “specific or credible cybersecurity threats” to the election, officials said. But three days after that call, the FBI Cyber Division issued a potentially more disturbing warning, entitled “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems.” 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.”

One of those two states was Illinois.

* On Friday, the State Board of Elections posted a timeline of the hack and this brief update

As a result of informing the Illinois Attorney General’s office of the breach, the SBE was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We have fully cooperated with the FBI in their ongoing investigation to determine who was responsible for the attack and to prosecute the offender(s).

The Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) has been very helpful by providing web traffic logs and assisting with web server log analysis.

The FBI advised that we work with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) to ensure there is no ongoing malicious activity on any of SBE’s systems. We have provided DHS with the log files that we obtained from DoIT.

* Back to Isikoff’s piece

Hackers could conceivably use intrusions into voter registration databases to delete names from voter registration lists, although in most states, voters can request provisional ballots at the polls, allowing time for discrepancies to be resolved, an official of the National Association of Secretaries of State told Yahoo News. Still, according to Barger, the cybersecurity expert, such attacks can be used to create havoc and sow doubt over the election results.

As a result, the FBI alert urges state officials to take additional steps to secure their systems, including conducting “vulnerability scans” of their databases. In addition, the bulletin urges officials to sharply restrict access to their databases. “Implement the principle of least privilege for database accounts,” the FBI alert reads. It adds that “any given user should have access to only the bare minimum set of resources required to perform business tasks.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

18 Comments
  1. - Politically Incorrect - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 9:22 am:

    This is a shame to have any question raised about the integrity of the voting system. I know that SBE takes pride in being as careful with its computer systems as it can.
    The unfortunate outcome may be claims that this supports allegations of vote fraud that Mr. Trump has already carelessly made before voting even commences.
    We can all hope that there will be proof that Illinois kept its systems intact through November.


  2. - DuPage - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 9:34 am:

    They should set up an internal computer system for sensitive data that is not connected to the internet at all. Not as convenient but much safer.


  3. - Honeybear - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 9:38 am:

    Okay……..breathe…..breathe…..trying hard not to freak out right now.

    This scares me.


  4. - Amalia - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 9:47 am:

    Trump talking about voter fraud is so hilarious when the Trump/Putin/Farage brand of repression minded leadership is working literally on US soil…Farage in Mississippi for Trump, what the blurg. meanwhile, HRC is recruiting lawyers who can help, one of the earliest looks for lawyers that I can recall.


  5. - illini - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:01 am:

    Just curious - both major parties maintain voter databases that derive at least part of their information from the SBE.

    Granted this is second hand info used for GOTV efforts and is password protected for those authorized to have access.

    In addition, the SBE gathers its info from the 102 County Clerks in Illinois.

    From what I know, neither Social Security Numbers nor Illinois Drivers License info is available on those databases.

    Yet it is troubling that this info could be hacked!


  6. - illini97 - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:07 am:

    My concern on this is primarily in appearances. Even if nothing was modified/deleted/viewed, it casts a cloud on the integrity of the voting process.

    It’s bad enough that we have a candidate for a major party making noise that he thinks the election is rigged and may be “stolen.” This kind of hack will play into that narrative and the facts of whether it made any difference will have no impact on the narrative.

    Ugh. How did we get here?


  7. - Anonymous - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:36 am:

    Read about ERIC http://www.ericstates.org/

    Q. What data does ERIC collect from member states?
    A. Each member submits at a minimum its voter registration and motor vehicle licensee data. The data includes names, addresses, date-of-birth, last four digits of the social security number. Private data such as date of birth and the last four digits of the Social Security number are anonymized and then transmitted to ERIC. An explanation of how the anonymization process works, how it is used in the ERIC data matching process, and how privacy is protected is in the Technology and Security Overview.

    The information comes from SOS - Do you really think this is secure? I bet not.


  8. - illinois manufacturer - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:39 am:

    There is very little data or at least there used to be not much more than a name and address. Worse the Chinese have been stealing massive amounts of medical records…including mine. God forbid we slap some tariffs on them.


  9. - The Captain - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:39 am:

    It’s kind of odd that they hacked into a database that you can buy a copy of for $500.


  10. - @MisterJayEm - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:47 am:

    “It’s kind of odd that they hacked into a database that you can buy a copy of for $500.”

    Which would lead one to believe that the hack wasn’t to take the data, but to alter it.

    – MrJM


  11. - Gerson - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 11:07 am:

    Another big problem: if you are in your 40s or older, your original registration documents may include your soc sec no, for anyone to see who pulls your file. I once checked on my registration history at cook cty and was shocked to discover that.


  12. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 11:13 am:

    MisterJayEm put his finger on the scary part. Altering the data really can create chaos, undermine trust in the results, and possibly change some results.

    I hope this identified breach has our people running scared while fixing this.


  13. - illini - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 11:18 am:

    I just checked out ERIC and the SBE.

    Steve Sandvoss, Executive Director of the SBE is also a Director of ERIC.

    Any conflicts here? Just asking.


  14. - TRL WGN 1 - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 12:13 pm:

    In ERIC, each member state has a representative board member. Steve Sandvoss is the Illinois ERIC board member and also the SBE Executive Director.


  15. - illini - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 12:28 pm:

    I’ve looked a little closer at ERIC and have a few questions –

    Who would have to authorize the initial fees and annual dues required?

    Why should Illinois share all this info with 20 some other states?

    What has ERIC done to notify, yet, unregistered voters in Illinois that they need to register?

    Seems like a waste of money and time, not to mention duplication of effort.

    I could be wrong!


  16. - Veil of Ignorance - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 3:51 pm:

    This story just reinforces why election day registration is needed in order to protect against voters against being wrongly purged from the rolls without them knowing it. Unless the Russian hacking scheme is to “create” voters, which I’d imagine would be much more difficult to accomplish.


  17. - scott aster - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 4:55 pm:

    RICH Are you surpreised that we have weak systems in this state??? Keeping systems current and secure takes $$$$$$ and with the state of budget I’m sure Mr Q and his merry band didn’t install new systems. Last I looked SOS is still running “Green screen apps” Could be wrong but just a hunch…..


  18. - Anonymous - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:01 pm:

    - @MisterJayEm - Monday, Aug 29, 16 @ 10:47 am: -

    Which would lead one to believe that the hack wasn’t to take the data, but to alter it.”

    By golly, you are on to something here.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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