The recently released Mueller report revealed previously unknown targets of Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential election. NPR’s Pam Fessler says before the report came out, Russia was only known to have attacked Illinois’ voter registration system; those hacks gave Russia access to information about over half a million voters. Now, the Mueller report shows how Russia launched a cyberattack in Florida as well.
“The Russians were able to gain access to one county government computer system in Florida,” Fessler says. “Also, that the Russians were able to plant malware in the computers of a vendor [in Florida] who provides voter registration systems to numerous states.”
Fessler says the company denies it was hacked, and there’s no evidence so far that the hack affected individual votes or swayed the 2016 election.
“But you know, we don’t know,” Fessler says.
The county did know it was hacked at the time, she says, but state election officials did not know. The name of that county is not in the report.
Nonetheless, state election officials knew that Florida was vulnerable to election hacking, and since the 2016 election, Fessler says federal, state and local election officials have collaborated to strengthen the state’s defense against cyber attacks.
Fessler says it’s a policy of the federal government to not reveal the county or jurisdiction that was hacking target. That’s because the government wants groups to feel comfortable reporting hacks; such an admission could negatively effect public trust in the election system.
“But they say that they use that information that they gain from dealing with that potential attack to share with other entities and other election officials so they can prevent similar attacks,” Fessler says.
The public didn’t know about the Florida attack until the Mueller report, and the report shows vulnerabilities in Florida’s election system that had been hidden from view. While Fessler reiterates that the hack doesn’t appear to have swayed 2016 election results, she says some cyber security experts say the Russian malware could have had undetected effects.
The hacking has led to greater collaboration between all levels of election officials, since 2016, Fessler says. News of this other hack means that work will have to continue.
“This will definitely be an issue that will be brought up,” Fessler says.
Written by Caroline Covington.