* 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.”