Security experts have warned for years that hackers could penetrate electronic voting systems, and now, leaked national security documents suggest a concerted effort to do just that in the 2016 USA election.
The first attempt in August targeted VR Systems, a Florida vendor that sells election software to most counties in the state, and the second attempt was directed at 122 election management officials, according to The Intercept, an online national security news outlet that said it obtained a copy of the NSA's classified intelligence report, dated May 5.
Humboldt County, population 136,000, might not seem like a top target for the Russians.
There's no evidence that voting data in Humboldt County - or any other California county - was accessed by hackers. - We now know the Clay County elections office was at least one of the state's offices targeted by Russian hackers.
"We were on a conference call with Homeland Security and representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and they told us and wanted to ensure us they were watching everything across the state", said Jennifer Edwards, Collier elections supervisor. If it had not been leaked, the public would still have nearly no inkling about how diligently Russian hackers worked to penetrate United States voting systems in the view of the U.S. intelligence community.
The Intercept said the second email, sent around November 1, six days before Election Day and disguised as a routine message from VR Systems, was embedded with weaponized files that would have allowed "vast control over a system's settings and functions".
It was part of an attempt to hack a Florida company, VR Systems, based in Tallahassee, which is involved in voter registration for much of the state.
Hart InterCivic contracts with VR Systems to provide the e-poll book services, Sanders said. "All this craziness has happened all of a sudden", said Nichols.
The government report doesn't directly name the company, but it does reference the vendor VR Systems numerous times, and the company has since responded publicly after the leaked NSA report was made public. Although there may have been many others, security experts said one coming so late in the game would be more likely to be about sowing chaos than trying to alter vote counts. Seminole County votes on trusted paper ballots.
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"When a customer alerted us to an obviously fraudulent email purporting to come from VR Systems, we immediately notified all our customers and advised them not to click on the attachment".
"We are only aware of a handful of our customers who actually received the fraudulent email and of those, we have no indication that any of them clicked on the attachment or were compromised as a result", the statement said. We have policies and procedures in effect to protect our customers and our company.
The report describes just one phishing campaign, which hit state officials a week before the election, but does not give any locations or say if it was successful.
Current and former county election officials in all six in counties, with knowledge of work surrounding the 2016 election, all told CBS4 Tuesday they do not believe they received the corrupt email and none of the officials believe the company VR Systems alerted them to any potential problems.
According to a statement released Tuesday afternoon, officials said the Maricopa County Recorder's Office has an in-house IT department that builds its own voter registration software and electronic pollbook check-in system, and the Elections Department has no tabulation software that is connected to the internet.
NBC2 News has confirmed that the Russian government tried to hack into the Collier County Election's Office computers, just days before the 2016 presidential election.
Appel said that if ballots are manipulated within a voting machine, "it won't be obvious, people won't know about it" unless there is an audit or recount.
The classified document was leaked to the press by a 25-year-old intelligence contractor who has been arrested by the Department of Justice.