Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Federal intelligence agencies issued a warning Monday that "foreign agents" and cyber criminals were amping up inaccurate claims that U.S. voter databases have been hacked.
The FBI and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said that groups hostile to U.S. elections were spreading false and inconsistent information online "in an attempt to manipulate public opinion, discredit the electoral process, and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions."
On Sept. 1, a Russian news site, Kommersant, reported that private information for millions of voters in databases from Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan and North Carolina had been obtained by Russian hackers and was being sold on the "darkweb."
But claims that voter databases were hacked or leaked are not true, and much voter registration information is already available from public sources and county clerks, the federal agencies said Monday.
The intelligence agencies recommended that voters view early, unverified claims with "a healthy dose of skepticism."
The agencies also recommended using social media tools to flag questionable claims that voting databases had been hacked.
The warning comes as President Donald Trump has repeatedly made claims that the election system can be "rigged," that "millions" of undocumented residents are voting illegally, and that mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud.
"This story comes up every year, and every year that basic voter info remains public," David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told NBC via text message when the Russian article appeared.
"I could see a good argument for making it private, but just because this basic info is publicly available isn't evidence of hacking, any more than if Russia had a copy of the white pages (for those that remember what that is!)"
Claims of attempted foreign interference turned out to be accurate during the 2016 presidential election.
A U.S. Senate investigation in 2018 concluded that leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Russian-affiliated cyber actors tried to hack election systems in least 18 states and had the capacity to delete voter registrations.
The committee found that some Internet-connected election infrastructure was vulnerable to hacking and that outdated voting systems didn't have paper records that could be audited after allegations of machine manipulation.
Other countries that tried to interfere with the 2016 election were Venezuela and Iran, a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security found in March 2019.
Local election authorities moved to strengthen election systems across the country for the 2020 election. The report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller also alleged that Russian sources tried to interfere with the 2016 election.