State elections officials say they have no evidence state IT systems were compromised by Russian government hackers in the lead-up to the 2016 election, despite a new report to the contrary by NBC News.
The report names Wisconsin as one of seven states in which the U.S. intelligence community “developed substantial evidence that state websites or voter registration systems ... were compromised by Russian-backed covert operatives prior to the 2016 election.”
Federal intelligence officals never told the states involved, NBC News reported. It attributes the report to three unnamed “senior intelligence officials.”
NBC reported the U.S. intelligence community, in this case, defines “compromised” as actual entry into election websites, voter registration systems and voter look-up systems. All state and federal officials to whom the network spoke reportedly agreed no votes were changed and no voters were taken off the rolls as part of the intrusions.
The state’s chief election official, Michael Haas, responded to the NBC report with a statement insisting the state’s election systems are secure.
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“In response to NBC’s questions, we double-checked with (the Department of) Homeland Security and our other cybersecurity partners,” Haas said. “They have assured us that they are not aware of any other attempts — successful or unsuccessful — to breach Wisconsin’s systems” beyond two previously reported attempts that were unsuccessful.
The Elections Commission announced in September that it had learned from Homeland Security that two attempts to gain access to state systems in July 2016 were linked to Russian government cyberactors. At the time, Homeland Security said Wisconsin was one of 21 states that had been targeted by Russians.
The attempts in Wisconsin were focused on gaining access to a nonexistent server at the state Department of Workforce Development. But federal officials concluded it was part of a broader Russian effort to target the state’s elections infrastructure.
No data was removed and no impact made on state IT systems as a result of those attempts, the state’s IT agency, the Division of Enterprise Technology, said in September.