The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly warning election officials across the country after it found evidence that foreign hackers were able to infiltrate state election databases in Illinois and Arizona.
The FBI issued the warning through a “flash” alert from its Cyber Division on Aug. 18, as first reported by Yahoo News. The alert didn't include the names of the breached states, although sources claim it refers to Illinois and Arizona’s voter registration databases being targeted by suspected foreign hackers.
The FBI is now warning election officials across the country to take new steps to bolster the security of computer systems.
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Illinois Board of Elections’ general counsel Ken Menzel told Yahoo News that hackers were able to download the personal data of up to 200,000 state voters.
Menzel also said that FBI agents confirmed to him in a recent briefing that the attacks were believed to be carried out by foreign hackers. The perpetrators were not identified by country. He noted that he was also told that the FBI was looking into a link between the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee. U.S. officials suspect that hack was carried out by Russian government hackers.
Last month, a message was sent to all election authorities in Illinois saying a hack had been detected on July 12. As a precautionary measure, the state's entire voter registration was shut down the next day and remained shut down for several days.
Menzel told NBC Chicago in July that the state’s voter registration system is “kind of a prime target for hackers” because of the database’s collection of identifying information.
According to the latest report, the Arizona attack wasn’t as large in scope as Illinois', although malicious software was introduced to the state’s system. Nevertheless, the hackers were unable to exfiltrate any data, a state official told Yahoo News.
The FBI suggested that the two hacks could be linked. According to the bulletin, there were eight separate IP addresses that were the source of the two attacks. Rich Barger, chief intelligence officer for cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect, told Yahoo that one of the IP addresses has been identified in Russian criminal underground hacker forums.
The bureau would not confirm news of the alert but said in a statement that "in furtherance of public-private partnerships, the FBI routinely advises private industry of various cyber threat indicators observed during the course of our investigations."
"This data is provided in order to help systems administrators guard against the actions of persistent cyber criminals," the statement read.
According to the report, the FBI will likely pressure the Department of Homeland Security to formally designate the voter systems as a piece of the country’s “critical infrastructure” requiring federal protection.
A Homeland Security spokesman told Yahoo News that that sort of designation “is under consideration.” Federal and state officials told the publication it was unlikely that a cyberattack would seriously disrupt the November elections, but that a threat was not out of the question.