Alleged Russian hack reveals a deeply flawed election system

Posted June 09, 2017

A federal contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, 25, was arrested and charged this week with leaking the "Top Secret level" document to the website after it was discovered she printed out the document and sent it to the website. Still, the disclosure of the NSA document has prompted a review of election security, he said.

VR Systems provides voter check-in software and a program to show online election night results for Broward County. The software is not used to tabulate voting results.

Matt Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania computer scientist, said any penetration of the election system would be alarming. "We have multiple safeguards in place to protect against elections fraud and prevent any possible hacking attempts from being successful". The issue forced officials to abandon the system, issue paper ballots and extend voting hours, but officials there said that trouble did not appear to have been caused by hacking.

The report, dated last month, asserts that hackers obtained information from company employees and used that to send phishing emails to 122 local election officials just before the election last November in an attempt to break into their systems. If the reader of the email opened the attachment, it would release malicious software that could disrupt the system, according to the NSA document.

Leaked documents from the probe into Russia's interference in the 2016 USA election underscore some of the worst fears about electronic voting systems - that they may be vulnerable to hackers.

S.C. Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino, however, has asked county election officials to report if the Federal Bureau of Investigation contacts them about being subject to phishing scams tied to last year's election. It does not indicate whether actual vote-tampering occurred. "Phishing and spear-phishing are not uncommon in our society".

The fraudulent email came through as a gmail.com account, and VR Systems told elections officials that emails from the company "will never come from an '@gmail.com' email address".

Seminole County uses paper ballots and "you can't hack paper", Ertel said.

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VR Systems officials did not respond directly to questions emailed by the AP.

But the county Office of Elections had a contract with elections company Hart InterCivic, and Hart used VR Systems for its electronic poll books, the devices poll workers use to check in voters at the ballot.

Most Florida counties use VR Systems software to manage voter information and rolls, not for voting machines or tabulation.

In late September, elections officials in all of Florida's 67 counties took part in an informational call with Federal Bureau of Investigation officials, who warned about possible hacking attempts to subvert or tamper with the upcoming elections. But he pointed out that even if hackers were able to break into voting results, the US vote-tallying process is so decentralized that it would be nearly impossible to swing an election.

"We did receive an email on November 7, 2016, however, (we) did not open the attachment", Lewis said.

A National Security Agency report published by the website The Intercept said Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one USA supplier of voting software and sent deceptive emails to more than 100 local election officials in the days leading up to the November election.

Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

"We'd like to make sure we go that extra step to make sure the voters in our community are confident in their votes", she said.