DHS Informs 21 US States Targeted By Hackers
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has contacted and informed the 21 US states that had had their election systems targeted by Russian threat actors in 2016. The DHS had earlier stated that it has informed the affected states about the hacking attempt, which is being disputed. While it did not reveal the states that had been impacted, the statements of various authorities and other information reported by The Associated Press (AP) and the WashingtonPost have enabled piecing together of the list of affected states.
List of Affected States
The analysis reveals that the DHS had notified election officials of the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
As of now, AP reports that systems in only two states – Arizona and Illinois – had been breached. The hackers seem to have been able to penetrate just by exploiting basic vulnerabilities such as weak links in voter interface applications such as registration systems and such.
Crime of the Century
Earlier, commenting on Russia’s meddling in the US elections, The Washington Post had reported: “In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy.”
Statement from the California Secretary of State
When the Alex Padilla, the California Secretary of State was notified by DHS of Russian Attempt to scan California’s Internet-facing systems, Padilla released a statement: “Today, my office was informed for the first time by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that “Russian cyber actors” “scanned” California’s Internet-facing systems in 2016. DHS confirmed that they have no evidence that any systems were penetrated or compromised in any way. Scanning is an unauthorized attempt to identify weaknesses in a computer or network – akin to a burglar looking for unlocked doors in a house.”
“We are concerned, however, that in June 2017, Jeanette Manfra, Acting Undersecretary for Cybersecurity and Communications at DHS testified before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that “the owners of the systems within those 21 states have been notified.” This was simply not true and DHS acknowledged they failed to contact us and “two or three” other states.”
“It is completely unacceptable that it has taken DHS over a year to inform our office of Russian scanning of our systems, despite our repeated requests for information. The practice of withholding critical information from elections officials is a detriment to the security of our elections and our democracy.”
Other states too were concerned about the delayed report from DHS about the hacking attempts. Though there were multiple security agencies having information about the cyber security breach, none had alerted any state or provided details about successful intrusion or vulnerability scanning attempts.
Necessity of Cyber Alerts
It is essential for any organization to be notified immediately of hacking attempts or intrusions. The DHS has taken over a year to confirm the hacking attempts and even now the statements that it releases do not seem to be forthright. There seems to be an attitude among officials to provide statements that attempt to balance the people’s belief in the vote results and future hacking attempts.
Cyber experts reiterate that organizations/agencies with knowledge about breaches or hacking attempts must immediately alert the affected organizations. Cyber espionage, cyber theft, and other such compromising activities must be immediately addressed so as to contain any damage. Cyber security agencies must act responsibly and alert concerned organizations.