Russian Hackers Targeted Election Databases in Florida Counties

ballot-1294935__340Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s reported findings of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election were linked to at least two Florida counties. Counties administer and fund elections at the local level, overseeing more than 109,000 polling places and coordinating more than 694,000 poll workers every two years.

According to the National Association of Counties (NACo), in November 2016, the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) sent over 120 emails containing malicious software to email accounts used by Florida county officials who were responsible for administering the election, according to Mueller’s report. Each email had an attachment that if opened, would give the GRU access to the email recipient’s computer.

Federal officials say that Russia remains interested in disrupting elections after a multipronged effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Although United States Department of Homeland Security notified Maryland that is was one of 21 states with suspicious online activities in 2016, there’s no evidence that Maryland’s election systems or voter data were breached or compromised.

From the NACo coverage:

In an interview with The New York Times, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the senders of the emails containing the malicious attachments were “in a position” to change voter roll data, but it does not seem that they did.

Broward County, located in the Fort Lauderdale area, and Volusia County, located in east-central Florida, were two counties that received emails, according to county officials.

Three different email accounts in Broward County were targeted by two attempts of suspicious emails in 2016, according to Steve Vancore, the spokesperson for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections. The former Supervisor of Elections, Brenda Snipes, and her assistant, Patricia Santiago, both received emails on two separate occasions, he said. The general inbox also received the suspicious emails, he noted.

According to Vancore, both sets of emails were sent from the email address vrelections@gmail.com. He said the county’s virus checker first flagged the emails and recognized that the attachment was a virus. The virus checker then removed the emails, preventing them from being delivered to the intended recipients.

“The server took the attachment and quarantined it,” he said.

Vancore emphasized that on a large system, receiving suspicious emails is common.

“Normally, these things bounce off and nobody pays much attention to them and you’re glad the system worked,” he said.

Vancore said even if the attachment was opened, it could not have impacted the votes counted because the emails were not sent to the voter tabulation system, which cannot receive emails.

“Now, in theory, what could have happened is they could have gone in and messed up everybody’s voter registration if it got through multiple layers of security,” he said.

While the virus checker used in the 2016 presidential election “worked as it was supposed to,” Vancore said, the county continuously works to upgrade its systems, improve technologies and improve personnel training.

MACo is actively engaged with the State Board of Elections (SBE) and Local Boards of Elections (LBEs) to maintain the integrity of state and local election systems and data.

MACo’s Information Technology Affiliate, SBE, and LBEs have partnered with SBE to identify steps that can be taken to enhance election security. This collaborative effort will promote best practices and information sharing to protect the systems and data we use to conduct elections.

Read the full article for more information.

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