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“Child’s play” to hack state database

Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016

* There’s a lot of hyperbole in this piece, but the essential takeaway is indicated in these excerpts

The FBI says that computer hackers accessed, and in one case stole, voter registration files in two states, potentially compromising personal information and putting crucial election data at risk just three months before voters head to the polls.

And if that weren’t unsettling enough, the techniques that the hackers used were neither sophisticated nor particularly hard to employ, proving that it’s not just high-end hackers from foreign governments, like the ones believed to be targeting U.S. political organizations, that elections officials need to worry about in the runup to November. […]

The FBI’s analysis of the hacks, contained in a security alert first reported by Yahoo News, shows that Arizona’s elections website was penetrated in June using a common vulnerability that’s well known to security experts. Then, in July, Illinois’ voter files were accessed apparently using stolen login credentials, which could have been obtained by spear phishing a state employee. […]

On the scale of hacker sophistication, these attacks rank on the low-end, relative child’s play for the kinds of skilled operators that U.S. officials suspect may have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Democrat and Republican lawmakers in an attempt to sow chaos in the presidential elections.

The problem is the security was far, far too lax. It’s been beefed up now in Illinois, but, man, this was no way to run a railroad.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

21 Comments
  1. - Annonin' - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 11:56 am:

    Who was just B* a few year back that the ISBE website was nearly as bad as HDs? Now you want tight security and other stuff. Very demanding
    BTW how do you sleep at night?


  2. - illini - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:03 pm:

    — It’s been beefed up now in Illinois, but, man, this was no way to run a railroad. —

    Kind of like closing the barn doors after the cows escape!


  3. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:06 pm:

    I hope someone did a code review to make sure those Russian hackers didn’t leave behind code enabling their favorite candidate Donald Trump to become the next President.


  4. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:07 pm:

    ==The problem is the security was far, far too lax.

    IT too often views it as a technical problem and not a training problem–phishing can best be beat by training staff to avoid phishing techniques.


  5. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:10 pm:

    ===the ISBE website was nearly as bad as HDs?===

    Well, it worked, at least on the user end. It probably didn’t hurt that I also reached out to a rating group that had always given ISBE high marks and asked them to change their criteria. lol

    Also, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a government to protect citizens’ private data from easy peasy hacks like this one. You apparently disagree. That’s truly bizarre.


  6. - Anon - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:13 pm:

    Hard to protect data when there’s no budget. Firewalls cost a fortune. If Rauner had a budget, we’d update our firewall.

    It’s really that simple.


  7. - RNUG - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:15 pm:

    This is so sad. At one time in the later 1970’s Illinois was a groundbreaking leader in mainframe computer security and part of a joint development team with IBM and various research universities called Project SAFE.


  8. - The Captain - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:16 pm:

    In tough budget times the first cuts are to non-essential IT costs. When is the last time we weren’t in tough budget times?

    Also, 2006 was the first year we had early voting. Since then we’ve added: 1) no-fault absentee/vote by mail, 2) in precinct same day registration, 3) contribution limits, 4) unlimited independent expenditure committees, 5) business registration for state contractors, 6) the state electronic filing software changed from a desktop version to an online version, 7) post-election daily updates of outstanding uncounted ballots by election authority and 8) self funding notification requirements.

    Not all of the above fall entirely on the State Board of Elections, some of those are the responsibility of local election authorities, but these electoral and technical responsibilities have grown exponentially. I haven’t looked at the budget funding provided to the State Board or the locals recently but I’d bet good money that their funding hasn’t grown exponentially to meet the needs of all of these new responsibilities. We have 109 election authorities in this state plus the State Board, I hate to sound ominous but it’s only a matter of time before something undesirable happens.


  9. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:36 pm:

    ===Hard to protect data when there’s no budget. Firewalls cost a fortune.===

    Oh, please. They upgraded since the hack and it didn’t cost a fortune.

    Stop making silly excuses.


  10. - Bobby Catalpa - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:47 pm:

    Long message didn’t go through — but anon is right. It’s not a silly excuse. You talk with Checkpoint you need an upgrade — you better have a 20-40K budget. And that’s yearly.

    And most agencies don’t. And they don’t use Cloudflare or anything like it to help mitigate DDOS attacks. State gets DDOS’d? That’ll be the nightmare.


  11. - Harry - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:52 pm:

    Inexcusable but at teh same time, inevitable. Any complicatec system will have some weaker links and all it takes is fro a hacker to find one.

    Not just election systems, but we need a total re-think of the computerization and internet use for all systems dealing with critical issues like voting and money–which means a lot of systems.

    As a country, we have been in a fool’s paradise thinking that everyone is nice and no one would ever take advantage—exactly the wrong mindset.


  12. - sal-says - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 12:57 pm:

    == ‘Child’s play’ ….. ‘It’s been beefed up now…’ ==

    Upgraded to ‘what’? Junior high school level? Or has Ruiner’s DoIT’s made the systems ‘impregnable’?

    [ gotta love that DoIT abbrev-What was the cost to dream that one up? ]


  13. - Bobby Catalpa - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 1:14 pm:

    Until someone told me yesterday, I thought ‘Doit’ rhymed with ‘adroit’. So I was going around saying, “Doit this, doit that …” — and everybody was, like, what? It’s “Do it.”

    Okay — but still. My (limited, I admit) experience with “Doit” is essentially talking with high level business guys who have no coding or real IT experience — just a lot of “enterprise level” business talk. When I asked to talk with someone who actually knew code — as in Angular, React, Vue,js — they said they had no idea.

    Talking with “doit” folks was like talking with someone reading from a business 101 textbook. SWOT analyses were suggested. Focus groups were suggested. It was one of the more bizarre IT experiences I’ve ever had.


  14. - Mod Dem - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 1:40 pm:

    It should be pointed out that DoIT does not run ISBE’s infrastructure. The DoIT organization actually has a very good IT security team in place, as indicated by a number of public audits. When you consider the 100,000’s of attacks that occur everyone month on state website, they do a remarkable job.


  15. - AFSCME IT Guy - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:06 pm:

    No pensions, No patches. If you want secure systems, better accept a higher income tax.


  16. - name changed for this post - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:24 pm:

    –And most agencies don’t. And they don’t use Cloudflare or anything like it to help mitigate DDOS attacks. State gets DDOS’d? That’ll be the nightmare.

    The State deals with DDoS’s daily. Most of the time the users are completely unaware of it. That’s a good thing.


  17. - Skeptic - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 2:28 pm:

    “Firewalls cost a fortune” Besides the first reports were an SQL Injection attack. That’s not a firewall issue.


  18. - Brian - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 5:14 pm:

    Reading through the report:
    https://www.elections.il.gov/Downloads/AboutTheBoard/PDF/08_26_16AgendaAmended.pdf

    1. SQL injection vulnerability was used for the intrusion. There are free tools available to scan for these.
    2. Passwords not required to be complex. This is also free to implement.
    3. Encrypting stored passwords. Also free. Also a best practice.
    4. Two factor authentication. $3/user/month for the service, software is a free app on the user’s smart phone. Also a best practice these days.


  19. - FormerParatrooper - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 6:02 pm:

    These systems will never be secure enough to deter hackers, except maybe bored teenagers. As far as Nation States, Criminal Organizations and Terrorists, they will continue to adapt and find new ways to get into the systems. We have a lot of infrastructure and personal information in the internet world and we need to reconsider how much of our critical systems should remain in the cyber realm.


  20. - Fairness and Fairness Only - Tuesday, Aug 30, 16 @ 7:55 pm:

    We’ve all heard about the outdated, disconnected and, in some cases, unsupported systems. It follows the same logic that we would also have security exposure. Even the best IT departments can’t keep up without investment.


  21. - Big Joe - Wednesday, Aug 31, 16 @ 7:54 am:

    Rauner probably thinks that if we just had term limits and remapping these kinds of security issues would not happen. Pass the TA and all our security issues will go away, right Bruce?


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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