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U.S. intelligence officials on guard for potential Russian election hacks

By Eric DuVall
U.S. intelligence officials on guard for potential Russian election hacks
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said repeatedly that states need to take the possibility of hacking of the election seriously. The department is preparing for the possibility of attempts by Russian hackers to influence the outcome of the election. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. intelligence officials said they are preparing for the potential of Russian cyber meddling on the eve of a presidential election and in the days afterward.

Officials told The Washington Post and NBC News they view it as unlikely the Russians have the ability to directly hack election systems and sway the outcome of the race, but cautioned they may ramp up their steady efforts to influence voters and sow doubts that could delegitimize the outcome for some voters.

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Intelligence officials have repeatedly said the "decentralized" nature of the U.S. election system makes it almost impossible to pull off wide-scale corruption of vote tallies because all 50 states handle elections differently.

But it is possible Russian hackers could attempt to disrupt the election in other ways, including by releasing fake or doctored documents about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in an effort to cast last-minute doubts about their candidacies.

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So far, Russian hacks have targeted Clinton exclusively, through illegal intrusions at several Democratic groups and her campaign chairman, whose email was hacked and has steadily been leaked online. The result has been a constant stream of reports showing the inner workings of her campaign and the frank, sometimes embarrassing discussions between members of her staff.

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That effort could continue even after the election if she were to win in an effort to delegitimize a Clinton presidency with voters even before it begins.

NBC reported another possibility that would disrupt the election: a large-scale hacking attempt to take down critical infrastructure like the power grid or the Internet. It is possible, officials said, that the Oct. 21 widespread Internet outage that was caused by hackers targeting equipment sold by the company DYN was a dry run. The cyber attack took down social media sites like Twitter and e-commerce giant Amazon for several hours.

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In the event something like the Oct. 21 incident were to happen, Homeland Security officials said the department is prepared to work with major private Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to quickly get systems back up and running.

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