Russian hackers attempts to break into Alaska’s got as far as the public-facing Division of Elections website, according to the latest information on the attempted intrusion in the run up to the 2016 election, leaving the state’s voter registration database and other infrastructure untouched.
We’ve known that Russian hackers “unsuccessfully targeted” Alaska’s election system, and that the systems were not “compromised,” according to information the Department of Homeland Security provided Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke in September. We got a better look at the hacking efforts during a hearing on Tuesday.
Bahnke gave the update to the Alaska Elections Policy Work Group, an ad hoc group that’s getting regular updates about various efforts in Alaska’s voting system, on information she’s received since the September disclosure.
“It turns out they didn’t try to scan our voter registration election management database, when we investigated it and dug in and started asking more questions of them it turns out they visited our website so they went knocking on our door, which is a public website,” she said. “That’s the good news.”
Hackers identified by IP addresses linked with the Russian hacking effort essentially surfed the elections.alaska.gov site before moving on.
“That’s the end of that story, but probably the start of another one,” she said.
The rest of the meeting discussed ongoing efforts to continue to improve the security and integrity of Alaska’s voting system. Bahnke noted there are ongoing efforts to beef up the state’s security including the hiring of a position to oversee training and technology security and the formation of new cyber security measures.
Then why hack?
David Becker, Center for Election Innovation & Research, told the group on Tuesday that efforts like the Russian hacking don’t appear to have directly influenced the election by changing votes or tampering with voter rolls in any state. He said, instead, it’s believed that the effort was more likely intended to sow distrust in the voter system and build a narrative that the election was rigged.
“We have a lot of evidence based on what states have done and based on what independent investigators,” he said. “The votes were counted as they were cast, whether there was interference with people’s mindset is a separate issue not really relevant to election administration, but as far as how our election administration performed? It performed well even under this remarkable threat.”