Homeland official: 21 states' elections systems targeted in Russia cyberattacks

By Allen Cone  |  June 21, 2017 at 12:40 PM
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June 21 (UPI) -- Election systems in 21 states were targeted by Russian cyberattacks during the 2016 presidential election, a Homeland Security official told a Senate committee on Wednesday.

But Dr. Sam Liles, acting director of the Cyber Division of DHS, told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, "None of these systems were involved in vote tallying."

He said the Russian hackers found known vulnerabilities in state systems by "simple scanning," which he compared to someone "walking down the street to see if you are home."

"A small number of networks were exploited -- they made it through the door," Liles said.

Before the elections, Liles said DHS didn't know the Russian government was attempting to change the outcome of the election. But, he said DHS detected activities in the spring and summer 2016 and later received reports of cybertargeting of election infrastructures.

During opening remarks, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner, D-Va., said "at a minimal cost, Russia sowed chaos in our political system and undermined faith in our democratic process."

"This was one of the most significant events any of us on this dais will be asked to address in our careers, and only with a robust and comprehensive response will we be able to protect our democratic process from even more drastic intrusions in the future," Warner said.

Officials in Arizona and Illinois had previously confirmed that hackers targeted their voter registration system. Liles did not list specific states targeted.

The Intercept, citing a classified intelligence document, reported that Russian military intelligence "executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November's presidential election."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said "it is important Americans understand how our voting systems work and communicate that in real time."

Despite the threats, Jeanette Manfra, acting director of the undersecretary at DHS, said the agency still has confidence in voting processes that are "fundamentally resilient."

The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating Russia's efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies Wednesday during a the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 US election in Washington. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI

In a separate House Intelligence Committee meeting Wednesday, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified that Russia's meddling was "unprecedented, the scale and the scope of what we saw them doing."

Besides targeting voting systems for vulnerabilities, U.S. intelligence committees have said Russian hackers hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Johnson said he was disappointed the DNC would not accept Homeland Security's help in finding its cybervulnerabilities.

"In retrospect, it would have been easy for me to say I should have brought a sleeping bag and camped out in front of the DNC in the late summer" to get them to take seriously warnings their email server had been hacked.

In prepared remarks released by the House committee on Tuesday night, Johnson said: "In 2016 the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election -- plain and simple. Now, the key question for the president and Congress is: What are we going to do to protect the American people and their democracy from this kind of thing in the future?"

He said Russia's efforts convinced him to sign onto an Oct. 7 statement publicly blaming the Kremlin for what had happened, even though that might be perceived as "taking sides" or "challenging the integrity of the election itself."

"My view is that we needed to do it and we needed to do it well before the election to inform American voters of what we saw," Johnson said. "I think the larger issue is it did not get the public attention that it should have, because the same day the press was focused on the release of the Access Hollywood video." That video showed Trump bragging about kissing and groping women.

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