Hackers have attempted more intrusions into voter registration databases since those reported this summer, the FBI director said Wednesday, and federal officials are urging state authorities to gird their systems against possible other attacks.
Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, FBI Director James B. Comey said that the bureau had detected scanning activities — essentially hackers scoping out a potential attack — as well as some actual attempted intrusions into voter registration databases.
He said those attempts were beyond what had been made public in July and August, likely referring to hacking efforts in Illinois and Arizona, though he offered no other specifics.
“We are urging the states just to make sure that their deadbolts are thrown and their locks are on, and to get the best information they can from” the Department of Homeland Security, he said.
Federal officials have been closely watching attempted hacking of the U.S. election system. Russia is believed to be behind the high-profile hack of Democratic National Committee computers, and the FBI told Arizona officials in June that Russians tried to access their system.
That hack shut down the voter registration system for a week, although it turned out that the hackers had not compromised the state system or even any county system. Illinois officials said they discovered a successful breach in which hackers were able to retrieve a small percentage of voter records, and they said the FBI told them agents were looking at foreign governments and criminal hackers as possible suspects.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the country does not interfere with U.S. elections “because we respect the Americans,” according to an Interfax news agency article.
Hacking that would actually affect an election would be difficult because of the localized, disparate and sometimes antiquated nature of the United States’ voting systems, and because the balloting systems are generally not connected to the Internet, officials have said. Such efforts, though, could spark doubts about the strength of the system and the legitimacy of the outcome it produces.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that 18 states have asked for help in improving their election-systems cybersecurity.