Senate Intelligence Findings on Russian Targeting of Election Infrastructure During the 2016 Election
On May 8, 2018 the Senate Intelligence Committee released a classified report about its initial findings on attempted Russian interference in the 2016 election cycle and gave its recommendations. The report found that Russian interference efforts began as early as 2014 and lasted until the 2016 election. The Committee saw no evidence that votes were changed and found that, on balance, the diversity of our voting infrastructure is a strength. Because of the variety of systems and equipment, changing votes on a large scale would require an extensive, complex, and state or country-level campaign. However, the Committee notes that a small number of districts in key states can have a significant impact in a national election.
It found that many voting systems across the country were outdated and vulnerable due to the voting machines’ connectivity to the internet. At least 18 states had election systems targeted by Russian affiliated actors. Out of the states that were targeted, only six states had attempts by Russian hackers to infiltrate voting related websites. Additionally, Russian hackers were able to access restricted areas of election infrastructure and had the ability to manipulate voter registration data in a “small number of states.” Only one state’s system has been publicly reported as having been compromised, though no records were changed: Illinois’ voter registration system.
These hackers could not change votes, or the amount of votes counted in the election. The report concluded, “The Committee has not seen any evidence that vote tallies were manipulated or that voter registration information was deleted or modified.” As for motive of these hackers, the committee could not gather why these Russian hackers tried to infiltrate the 2016 election.
Moving forward, the committee found that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) preparedness for any type of cyber security attack was inadequate and that notification to states about potential cyber-attacks on the elections was poorly done. The committee found that currently, DHS is working with state and local officials by giving clearance to these officials and by sharing classified network defense information.
The committee recommended that states should still be able to run elections and only receive help from the federal government only for necessary information and resources. The report mentioned how states should use the federal grants they receive to hire more IT staff, update software, and contact its vendors to provide more cyber security services. The committee then recommended on building a stronger defense to our elections by:
1) making it known to the world that an attack on our election systems is a hostile act and the United States will respond accordingly;
2) having the intelligence community declassify information to state and local officials, along with DHS creating clear channels of communication through the expedition of security clearances;
3) having state and local officials prioritize the security of its election systems through software updates, security audits, and risk assessments; and
4) securing the vote itself through the replacement of outdated voting systems
By implementing these recommendations the committee believes that we can properly defend our elections.
Read the full Senate Intel Committee Report here