For the first time, the federal government has officially informed states that their election systems might have been targeted by foreign actors. The Department of Homeland Security told Congress this summer that it suspected that 21 states were targeted, but it wasn’t until Friday that they told local election officials, according to the Associated Press.
In June, DHS Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Cybersecurity and Communications Jeanette Manfra told a US Senate Intelligence Committee that “internet-connected election-related networks, including websites, in 21 states were potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors,” but didn’t disclose which states were impacted.
DHS officially contacted election officials in each state and six territories on Friday to “fill them in on what information the agency has about election hacking attempts in their state last year,” according to NPR. The AP reports that state officials from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin say that they were among those contacted. NPR reports that officials in Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, and North Carolina say that they were not amongst those contacted.
While the AP notes that being targeted doesn’t necessarily mean that information was manipulated, hackers did steal information or plant malware in Illinois and Arizona in 2016. In most cases, officials said that the activity was “preparatory activity such as scanning computer systems,” and that “attempts to compromise networks” were mostly unsuccessful.
The confirmation comes after months of complaints from state election officials, who have asked the department for information about its investigation. Bob Kolasky, acting deputy undersecretary for DHS’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, said that “we recognize that it is important for senior state election officials to know what happens on their state systems.” Numerous states are preparing for elections this fall, and have already begun to take precautions.