FBI warns states about potential election systems cyberattacks after 2 breaches

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Aug. 18 issued a flash bulletin to election officials and managers nationwide to warn of the potential for cyberattacks on their voter registration systems in the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8. The bulletin followed reported attacks on systems in Arizona and Illinois. File Photo by Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29 (UPI) — Federal authorities are warning election officials in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., about the potential for cyber security breaches in the upcoming presidential election.

After investigating a pair of confirmed attacks in Arizona and Illinois, the FBI issued the warning to shore up security measures to prevent hackers from infiltrating online election systems in the run-up to Election Day on Nov. 8.

“The FBI is requesting that states contact their Board of Elections and determine if any similar activity … has been detected,” the bureau’s Cyber Division told industry parties across the country in a recent bulletin.

With a classification of Traffic Light Protocol “Amber,” the bulletin went out Aug. 18 and cited two recent Board of Election breaches. An amber TLP tag allows recipients of the bulletin to share the sensitive information “with members of their own organization who need to know, and only as widely as necessary to act on that information.”

“This information is NOT to be forwarded on beyond NEED TO KNOW recipients,” the FBI stated in the warning.

The bulletin detailed various activities of the hackers and revealed a number of their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — essentially a digital fingerprint that gives investigators rudimentary information on the hackers’ locations.

“The FBI is requesting that states contact their Board of Elections and determine if any similar activity to their logs, both inbound and outbound, has been detected. Attempts should not be made to touch or ping the IP addresses directly,” the bureau encourages in the bulletin, along with several other recommendations.

In Illinois, officials say the breach extracted information on about 200,000 voters and forced election officials to suspend web-based registration for 10 days in July. No voter data was extracted in the Arizona attack, but it involved the introduction of malware into its system.

The FBI’s Cyber Division routinely issues flash bulletins to warn election administrators about potential threats.

“This data is provided in order to help cyber security professionals and system administrators to guard against the persistent malicious actions of cyber criminals,” the bulletin stated.

Although no states allow online ballot-casting, cachets of information about voters, procedures and other relevant election data are maintained via online systems — information that could be used to compromise the integrity of election results, authorities say.

Such potential for contamination has been highlighted in recent weeks by attacks on two major Democratic Party websites — one for the Democratic National Committee and another belonging to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — as well as a reported attack on the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Officials said those attacks may have gleaned information about the Democrats’ strategy against Republican nominee Donald Trump, as well as emails that appear to have shown a preference in the race by party leaders for Clinton over rival Bernie Sanders.

Authorities have said Russian hackers may have been behind the attacks.

“Election security is critical, and a cyberattack by foreign actors on our election systems could compromise the integrity of our voting process,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., wrote recently in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


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