Hackers believed to be working for the Russian government targeted election-related networks in 21 U.S. states, representatives of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday in a hearing on threats to election infrastructure.
DHS officials revealed that the agency’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) published a report in October claiming that cyber actors possibly connected to the Russian government had targeted websites and other election-related systems in 21 states. The states have not been named, but some news organizations previously reported that the list includes Arizona and Illinois.
The DHS said only a “small number” of networks were compromised, but it did not find any evidence that vote tallies had been altered. In many cases, only attempts to scan election infrastructure were detected.
The DHS has admitted that cyberattack attribution is difficult, but the agency appears confident that the Russian government was involved in these operations.
A few months before last year’s presidential election, the DHS said there was no indication that cyber threat actors had been planning to attack election infrastructure in a way that would change the outcome of the vote, and noted that the checks and redundancies in the system made the task difficult. However, the agency warned at the time that “cyber operations targeting election infrastructure could be intended or used to undermine public confidence in electoral processes and potentially the outcome.”
In his statement before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bill Priestap, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said “Russia’s 2016 presidential election influence effort was its boldest to date in the United States.”
“Moscow employed a multi-faceted approach intended to undermine confidence in our democratic process. Russia’s activities included efforts to discredit Secretary Clinton and to publicly contrast her unfavorably with President Trump,” Priestap stated. “This Russian effort included the weaponization of stolen cyber information, the use of Russia’s English-language state media as a strategic messaging platform, and the mobilization of social media bots and trolls to spread disinformation and amplify Russian messaging.”
The FBI is still investigating the extent of Russia’s interference, including whether or not any of President Donald Trump’s current or former associates aided Moscow’s efforts.
The United States has officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere with the November election, but the Kremlin has denied the allegations. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently admitted that patriotic hackers may have launched attacks, but denied government involvement and said hacking is unlikely to have a real impact on elections in a country.
Top secret documents leaked recently from the National Security Agency (NSA) also show that hackers affiliated with the Russian military had repeatedly attempted to break into U.S. voting systems before the election.
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