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Mueller Report Raises New Questions About Russia's Hacking Targets In 2016

Mueller Report Raises New Questions About Russia's Hacking Targets In 2016

The Voting News for 04/19/2019

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Today's Featured Article:
Tony Shaffer: New Report Highlights Urgent Need to Replace South Carolina Voting System | FITSNews

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have confirmed that Russian hackers targeted all 50 states during the 2016 elections – not just the 21 states previously reported. This new information highlights the urgent need to replace South Carolina’s old, vulnerable digital touchscreen “DRE” voting machines. As a cyber operations expert with nearly forty years of national security experience, I feel the need to speak up: It’s critical to deter and mitigate these threats before the 2020 elections.

South Carolina is moving in the right direction. The legislature has appropriated $40 million for a new voting system and, to ensure a smooth procurement process, given responsibility for procuring the system to the S.C. Department of Administration (SCDOA).

As the department examines the available systems, it should carefully consider the efficiency, cost, and security of each system. It should also avoid the mistakes made in Georgia, where the legislature fast-tracked a bill requiring a $150 million voting system comprised of ballot-marking devices (BMDs) without considering a more secure, lower-cost system of hand-marked paper ballots. Read More

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report provided new details Thursday about how Russian agents hacked into Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee computers in 2016, renewing the question of whether the two parties would agree not to use stolen material in future political attacks. Leaders of the DCCC and the National Republican Congressional Committee came close to such an an agreement in late 2018, but talks broke down. The two committees, which have new leaders for the 2020 cycle, have not restarted discussions. The DCCC is interested in re-engaging in talks, according to a source familiar with the committee’s thinking. The NRCC declined to comment. The group’s new chairman, Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, was more focused Thursday on attacking the politics of investigating President Donald Trump. “It is time for the emotional, socialist Democrats to knock it off with their childish temper tantrums, accept reality and get back to work,” he said in a statement. DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos could not be reached immediately for comment.

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While the headlines about special counsel Robert Mueller's report have focused on the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice, the report also gave fresh details about Russian efforts to hack into U.S. election systems. In particular, the report said, "We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled [Russian military intelligence] to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government" during the 2016 campaign. That came as news to Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections — which has been working closely with federal authorities to protect their election systems against such attacks. "I haven't heard even a whisper" about such a breach, Lux told NPR, noting that the report referred to a county "government" office network, not specifically to an "elections" office, although the two are frequently connected. It's unusual that such a breach would occur and Florida officials would not know about it. For the past two years, election officials around the country have been working with both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to share information about potential security threats. They have set up several national communications networks specifically for that purpose.

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Russian hackers gained access to at least one Florida county’s election computer network during the 2016 campaign, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report released on Thursday. Mueller’s report said the FBI concluded that the GRU, Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, sent spear phishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for overseeing the 2016 election. The emails contained an attached Word document that included malicious software that gave the GRU access to the infected computer. While the hacking attempts were previously reported, the spear phishing effort’s apparent success in at least one Florida county was newly revealed on Thursday. The county was unnamed. “We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government,” the report said. Mueller’s office “did not independently verify that belief.” Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said he wasn’t aware that any county-level election systems were compromised in Florida. “It is not information that I am aware of,” Lux said in an interview Thursday. “To my knowledge, no counties were compromised. So, my presumption is that. I don’t know which county would have been compromised, and that’s nothing I’ve ever heard of.” The Florida Department of State said they have no knowledge of any successful hacking attempt during the 2016 election.

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The Mueller Report confirms the Russians tried to hack the Illinois Board of Elections website in 2016. “In one instance in approximately June 2016, the GRU compromised the computer network of the Illinois State Board of Elections by exploiting a vulnerability in the SBOE’s website. The GRU then gained access to a database containing information on millions of registered Illinois voters and extracted data related to thousands of U.S. voters before the malicious activity was identified,” the report states. This was part of an effort of the Russian intelligence agency — the GRU — to determine “vulnerabilities” on websites of more than two dozen states, including Illinois. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on the hacking attempt in 2017. The hack had nothing to do with counting votes in elections in Illinois. The hackers looked at voting registration data: name, address, date of birth, gender and the last four digits in the Social Security number. In all, hackers searched through about 80,000 records, with the elections board confirming the records of just under 3,000 voters were viewed by the hackers.

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North Carolina elections officials want to know whether an unnamed voting technology company that Robert Mueller's report says was compromised by Russian hackers is the same firm that supplies poll book software to more than a dozen counties across the state. In a letter to VR Systems sent Thursday afternoon, State Board of Elections General Counsel Josh Lawson asked the company to provide "immediate, written assurance" about the security of its products, which came under fire two years ago when a leaked intelligence report named the company as the target of a Russian hacking attempt known as "spearphishing." Mueller's report, released in a redacted form Thursday morning, notes that, in August 2016, Russian intelligence officers targeted a "voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls," installing malicious code on the company's network. The name of the firm is blacked out due to "personal privacy" exemptions. Lawson said, based on the leaked intelligence report and a separate 2017 federal indictment, that VR Systems was a target of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency.

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The two judges acting as Philadelphia’s elections officials won’t overturn the three-member election board’s selection of new voting machines, a setback for watchdogs and advocates who have been criticizing the choice and urging officials to start over. Instead, Common Pleas Court Judge Giovanni Campbell wrote Wednesday to City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, he will allow the Feb. 20 voting-machine decision to stand. “I recognize that voting systems are contested issues and people feel passionately about the systems that will be used for their exercise of a core constitutional right. And I am grateful that you and others have been voicing those concerns to the Board of Elections,” Campbell wrote. “However, I do not believe the Board of Elections should overrule its prior legitimate determinations.” Advocates have for weeks implored Campbell and another judge, Vincent Furlong, to invalidate the selection, arguing among other things that it was an illegal vote and that the choice was not in voters’ best interests.

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With the date of next month’s federal ballot now set, the agency in charge of Australia’s electoral systems has switched on its new security operations centre to protect against external interference. The short-term SOC capability was established late last month in preparation for Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling the election last week. It will be used it to detect any compromises - or compromise attempts - made against the Australian Electoral Commission's systems in the lead up to, during and following the May 18 election. The resilience of Australia's core electoral systems - the age of which remains an ongoing concern for the agency - is particularly acute in this year's election following Russia’s alleged cyber interference in the 2016 US election. Monitoring services will be provided by Technical Security Services (TSS), which was established by Defence Signals Directorate (now Australian Signals Directorate) alumni Richard Byfield. For up to the next ten weeks or until the results of the election are declared, the company will provide a real-time alerting system for significant cyber security events, as well as at least daily review of log files.

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Technical glitches in electronic voting machines (EVM) marred voting in seven of the 12 states that went to polls in the second phase of the staggered Lok Sabha elections. Faulty EVMs delayed polls in several constituencies in Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir, officials said. In Odisha, EVM glitches in many booths in Talsara Assembly constituency were reported while polling was delayed in six booths in Bonai Assembly constituency. Odisha saw both Lok Sabha as well as Assembly elections. Booths in Kendudihi, Bolangir and Kandhamal, G.Udayagiri and Baliguda in Odisha were also affected. In Uttar Pradesh, EVMs malfunctioned and disrupted polling in Mathura, Bulandshahr and Amroha. In Fatehpur Sikri, voters created a ruckus at booth no 201 and 54 where polling was on hold for more than 30 minutes due to EVM troubles. There were also reports of snags in the VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail)-EVMs in Nanded, Latur and Solapur in Maharashtra which either delayed polling or stopped it midway.

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After years of active interest in politics – particularly the mechanics of political systems in Israel and other countries – I decided to see for myself what an election looks like from behind the scenes. Instead of campaigning for my preferred party (with which I’m constantly disappointed), I applied to the Central Elections Committee to become a mazkir va’adat kalpi, the secretary of a local election committee, the person who hands you your envelope. It’s actually more complex than it sounds. Trusted with the oversight of the entire election process for one polling station, the secretary ensures that everything is set up correctly, that the voting is carried out according to the rules, and that votes are properly counted and reported to the regional committee as soon as possible. It was an exhausting, but exhilarating experience. Here are some of my main takeaways. 1. There were many opportunities to cheat the system. Although the careful selection process is designed to weed out people who applied for the job in order to take advantage of their position, and while rules are in place to guarantee the integrity of the elections, the system is still far from watertight. There were several opportunities for me, or others, to stuff the ballot box with hundreds of ptakim (voting slips) of our own choice, and the system still relies heavily on trust. For example, even setting aside a scenario whereby one of the people involved in the counting process had bribed everyone else in the room (there were five of us) to turn a blind eye to misconduct, I could easily have changed the results on the vote tally on my way to the regional headquarters where I reported my station’s results.

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Comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice, has upended Ukraine’s presidential race over the past several months by promising young voters a break from a past riddled with corruption and leaders beholden to powerful oligarchs. But now, a tranche of hacked emails suggest that Zelenskiy may have a powerful patron of his own: the Kremlin. On Tuesday, Ukraine’s security services revealed that they are investigating whether Zelenskiy’s campaign received financing from members of the Russian security service who are supporting the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic, a self-proclaimed, pro-Russian separatist proto-state in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. The claims first surfaced after a Ukrainian hacking group associated with the non-profit Myrotvorets Center released a set of hacked emails showing that a Russian security official with links to the DPR's leadership had attempted to exchange cryptocurrency for cash to send to Zelenskiy’s presidential campaign. In one of the emails, a member of the Russian security services notes that they “have approved the budget for the actions of the comedian.” The emails also appear to show that some of the financing came from Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov and Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev, both of whom allegedly help dictate the Kremlin’s policies towards Ukraine.

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Articles and commentary included do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors of The Voting News or its allied organizations.

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