Investigative Report: DHS Reveals Russian Actors Compromised Voter Registration Databases In 21 States Before 2016 Election

This may be one of the easiest articles I have had to write for this site because honestly, I have already written it before while working as a ghostwriter for other sites. Regardless, I am writing this article in response to “news” uncovered at today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, that at least 21 different states had their voter registration databases hacked in the months leading up to the 2016 Presidential election.

As reported by the multi-million dollar news corporation known as The Washington Post for the first time today, “Russian government actors tried to hack election systems in 21 states.” The report goes on to add that according to Samuel Liles, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting Director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division, “vote-tallying mechanisms were unaffected and that the hackers appeared to be scanning for vulnerabilities.” While it does not appear as though any votes were physically altered as a result of these activities, hackers did “successfully exploit a “small number” of voter registration networks and databases.

I have got to be honest with you, when I first saw all of the coverage on cable news today I was shocked. Not at the information uncovered at today’s hearings, but because all of this information was actually news to sitting members of the US Senate and members of the US intelligence community, meaning that many of these people were genuinely surprised to be learning all of this information for the first time.

For example, as Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigating Corespondent for Yahoo News, said on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, “Today’s hearings in the Senate and the House actually were substantive hearings where we learned information about the core issue here about what the Russians were doing in the election. We didn’t know until today that as many as 21 states were targeted, we didn’t know until today that there are impending investigations by the FBI into those hacks” – et cetera.

This was amazing to witness because as a civilian journalist and bum to boot, I remember covering reports of hacked US voter registration databases as far back as the winter of 2015. This is when, as first reported by Romanian software connoisseur Catalin Cimpanu on December 29th 2015, a “Misconfigured Database Exposes Details of 191 Million US Voters.” The report goes on to indicate that an unsecured data-base containing the records of 191 million voters was accidentally discovered by security researchers on December 20th 2015 and that the leak had been immediately reported to state authorities in New York and California, as well as to the FBI. As for the information contained within the leak, “The unprotected database contains over 300 GB of data, and includes details such as full names, voter IDs, home addresses, email addresses, party affiliations, ethnicity, telephone numbers, and more.

As if that was not enough, 5 days later on January 3rd 2016, a separate database containing information on over 56 million more voters was also found to have been leaked online. As reported by DataBreaches.net later that day, security researchers “found yet another misconfigured database with voters’ information.” Explaining that “All told,  there were 56,722,986 records in this database, but that did not necessarily translate into 56.7 million unique voters, as there were previous versions of some lists included.” Adding that “What really distinguished this database, though, was the inclusion of additional files with approximately 19 million records containing much more personal and demographic information on voters or potential voters.

According to that report, “In addition to name, address, telephone number, political party, ethnicity and indications as to whether the individual had voted in primary and general elections, records contained fields indicating whether the person was a religion donor, a charity donor, a gun owner, whether they were politically conservative, whether they were interested in hunting or fishing or auto racing, where they worked, and their income level. Other fields scored individuals on “bible_lifestyle” and “household_values.” For some people, e-mail addresses and cell phone number appear to have been included.” The report also indicates that voters from 48 different states were exposed and the only states which were not included in the data dump were Iowa, Illinois and the District of Colombia.

Lastly, in June of 2016, another database containing the records of over 154 million voters was also hacked and leaked online. As reported by Daily Dot on June 23rd 2016, “yet another exposed voter list database” was leaked online. According to the report, “this one contained 154 million records and was exposed because of a misconfiguration in a CouchDB installation,” adding that the “database contained a slew of personal and sensitive details,” including “gun ownership, Facebook profiles, and more.

For those of you keeping track at home, though at least some of the files were duplicates, over 400 million voter records from all over the country were hacked and leaked online between December 2015 and June 2016, just months before the November election. If you read through all of the reports above, while we know the party responsible for the leak in June 2016, the culprits behind the first two leaks have remained unknown. However, combining all of this information with the testimony of Samuel Liles yesterday, and I think it is now safe to say that Russian operatives were more than likely behind the leaks in December 2015 and January 2016.

Lastly, I want to tie back in with Michael Isikoff’s statements on CNN last night, particularly his comment that while we do not know all of the states which were compromised, “the two (states) we know were penetrated were Arizona and Illinois.” While I think I have just demonstrated why all of his commentary was either untrue, uninformed or incomplete, he does bring up another interesting situation.

As you might remember, Arizona was at one point the focus of a voter fraud and voter suppression investigation at the hands of the US Department of Justice in April of 2016. There were also more specific allegations that Bernie Sanders campaign offices were hacked in the days leading up the 2016 primary. While I will be the first to admit I have not covered the Arizona investigation since, yesterdays Senate Intelligence Committee hearing seems to confirm at least some of the original allegations stemming from that particular state.

Additionally, as Illinois was one of the states not originally included in any of the leaks in December 2015 and January 2016, it makes sense why these states would have been subjected to more intense cyber attacks at a later date, such as outlined at yesterdays hearings.



Categories: Hacking News

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