- A top official at the Department of Homeland Security told NBC News that Russia “successfully penetrated” a small number of state election networks during the 2016 US election.
- Jeanette Manfra, the DHS head of cybersecurity, confirmed previous reports indicating the Russian government targeted 21 states.
- Manfra’s comments come as lawmakers scramble to protect state election systems ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
The Russian government successfully penetrated an exceptionally small number of state election systems during the 2016 presidential election, Jeanette Manfra, the cybersecurity head at the Department of Homeland Security, told NBC News.
“We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated,” Manfra said. She did not say whether the Russian government altered any state voting registration databases or compromised actual votes, saying she is not allowed to talk publicly about classified information.
The US intelligence community has “no doubt” cyber attacks came from the Russian government, Manfra added.
In June 2017, Manfra testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that 21 states “were potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors” during the the 2016 election, and that “a small number” of election-related networks, including websites, were “successfully compromised.”
She also said that Russian attempts to compromise election networks extended beyond the 21 states, but declined say exactly how many more might have been affected.
Bloomberg reported that Russia could have targeted the election systems of as many as 39 states.
A leaked NSA document published by The Intercept bolstered that report. It detailed how hackers connected to Russian military intelligence had attempted to breach US voting systems days before the election.
In the run-up to this year’s midterm elections, state officials are scrambling to secure their election systems to prevent Russian cyber attacks that US officials say are likely.
“The point is, if it’s [Russia’s] intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during an interview on Fox News. We can take steps we can take, but this is something that, once they decide they’re going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it.”
Last year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed two bills aimed at protecting US voting systems from manipulation. One of the bills – the Secure Elections Act – would provide states with federal grants to upgrade voting system technology, among several other provisions.
Both measures are stalled in Congress, worrying some lawmakers that states’ election systems won’t be protected in time for the upcoming midterm elections.
“All of our national security witnesses have warned that [Russia is] coming after us in 2018 with more election interference,” Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “And yet what have we done?”