back to article Homeland Security: Putin’s hackers tried to crack electoral networks in 21 US states

Russian attempts to hack key American election systems are more advanced than first thought, according to Homeland Security officials on Wednesday. In a public hearing into election hacking held by the US Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Homeland Security's acting director of the cyber division, Dr Samuel Liles …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The repeated allegations are looking more like the product of a script writers meeting. "How do we form a narrative that the bad guys tried really hard, but they go nowhere? Our democracy was saved for now, but we need squillions of dollars to spend spying on Americans to save it in future."

    The last paragraph comes across as "Vlad lost faith in Ms Conway, so he hired his own PR firm to save her efforts". It still hasn't occurred to these genii that perhaps there is a large part of the US fed up with the dross that they were offered in the election.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Half and half

      So they admit that the tally machines weren’t a target, but still try and spin it as an attempt to change the outcome.

      What we do know was taken so far was voter registration info. The kicker was the DNCC already had all of that nationally. So if Russia really did hack the DNCC, why would they spend the effort to hack locally for voter info?

      More than likely the DNCC “hack” was really a leak, which has been long suspected. That explains the effort put into hacking local election databases, by somebody, possibly Russia.

      At this point in time it’s hard to tell who really did it. For the DNCC hack, Cloudstrike are the only ones that got to touch the servers afterwards, the federal government never did. That means that they’re taking Cloudstrike’s word on it, even though the founder is anti-Russian. As for election hacks, since we know that the NSA and CIA have the ability to forge fingerprints to make it look like somebody else did the dirty work, it’s hard to say that is really was Russia after all and not our own agencies!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Half and half

        All the "reports" coming from CloudStrike were essentially just spruiking for business.

      2. Arctic fox
        Headmaster

        Re: "At this point in time it’s hard to tell who really did it."

        I agree. Indeed the more I read of this developing story the more I begin to detect the smell of something being cooked up because they (whoever "they" are) want it to be so. Whilst it is entirely possible that the Russians were behind this it is also equally possible (given the complete lack of independantly verifiable evidence) that this is partly at least being cooked up by certain groupings in Washington who have a strong political interest in hanging this one around Putin's neck. There is something about this entire story that leaves me very suspicious about what in reality is going on here.

        1. Archtech Silver badge

          Re: "At this point in time it’s hard to tell who really did it."

          I believe it's known as "fixing the intelligence around the policy". Often conclusions are presented by a "director" (as in this case) who may possibly turn out to be a political appointee without any personal expertise at all.

          Tony Blair pioneered this kind of procedure in the run-up to the Second Gulf War. The intelligence services kept on telling him that Iraq did NOT have WMD, that Saddam Hussein was a deadly enemy of Al Qaeda, and that - whoever carried out 9/11 - it wasn't Iraqis. Blair just kept on telling John Scarlett "try again - get it right this time" until Scarlett told him what he wanted to hear. Scarlett is now Sir John Scarlett.

    2. gr00001000
      Childcatcher

      POSTAL VOTES

      Could the hack and known stealing of personnel data as the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Personnel_Management_data_breach of up to 21.5 million been used to register votes used for one certain president??

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: POSTAL VOTES

        More than likely the DNCC “hack” was really a leak, which has been long suspected. That explains the effort put into hacking local election databases, by somebody, possibly Russia.

        Wikileaks has always said that it was a leak by Bernie Saunders supporters who were pissed off at how corrupt Clinton was.

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4034038/Ex-British-ambassador-WikiLeaks-operative-claims-Russia-did-NOT-provide-Clinton-emails-handed-D-C-park-intermediary-disgusted-Democratic-insiders.html

        It depends who you think stands to gain by lying about it. Wikileaks doesn't have much to gain by lying about the source in my view. However...

        1) The Democrats however would look incompetent if they admitted that the data was leaked from their own staff.

        2) They'd lose the ability to play the "Trump is a Russian agent taking instructions from the Kremlin, and he's only in office because the KGB put him there!" line.

        3) The Democrats would be embroiled in a political scandal about lying and using propaganda to cover up their own incompetence.

        Ergo, wikileaks is probably telling the truth as there is no released evidence to prove Russian hacking, and they basically have nothing to gain by lying about it whereas the Democrats have much to gain by lying, and much to lose by admitting it was an inside job.

        1. Tom Paine Silver badge

          Re: POSTAL VOTES

          But Wikileaks are OBVIOUSLY* a Russian intel operation, so why on earth would anyone take anything they say at face value?

          * if you've been keeping up:

          https://twitter.com/sarahkendzior

          https://twitter.com/ericgarland

          https://twitter.com/SethAbramson

          https://twitter.com/20committee

          https://twitter.com/pwnallthethings

          https://twitter.com/RVAwonk ‏

  2. redpawn Silver badge

    National Security Demands

    we wouldn't want a human readable voter verifiable paper trail or backups of voter lists available at each precinct. That would put too much excitement in the elections. US voters could not handle that and chaos would result, not to mention the loss of voting machine profits.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not the hacks that were detected that are the problem...

    [tin foil hats on]

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: It's not the hacks that were detected that are the problem...

      The first thing about these hacks is that you must realize that there are no hacks.

      It's another one of those "revelations" that will be forgotten soon, only for bigger "revelations" that will be forgotten soon to be issued in the next episode and even bigger "revelations" that will be forgotten soon to be revealed in the episode after that.

      Pure Hollywood productions.

      The desire of the Empire to go up against Russia is on the par with the desire of Wilhelmine Germany to go up against France. Afterwards, there is regret.

      1. Permidion

        Re: It's not the hacks that were detected that are the problem...

        well, Reality Leigh Winner has been arrested under treason charge for leaking some of these "Pure Hollywood productions" documents as you call them ....

  4. tom dial Silver badge

    There probably is really nothing very significant about the claimed Russian attempts to influence the US election. The claimed propaganda initiatives would not have swayed many votes, if any, although they might have had some bias confirmation effects on the excessively gullible. The hacking reportedly did little more than touch registration data that, for the most part, is public record data available for purchase by parties and candidates, not to mention freely available from careless purchaser/aggregators.

    There also is little the government can do about organizations like RT and other less obvious propaganda outlets, especially when there are home grown ones that are, in fact quite similar but almost certainly not under foreign control. The first amendment is a very high wall against any kind of press regulation, where "press" clearly includes internet sites.

    The federal government might be able to offer state election officials technical help in safeguarding systems used in election administration and management, but it is not clear that their efforts would not be better spent in other areas like security of federal government systems or critical infrastructure. The standards and guidelines have been publicly and freely available from NIST for years. Failure to apply them consistently across even the federal government is largely a function of management ignorance and budget limitations. The first may be partly remediable, but if the future is like that past the second probably is not: throwing money at election operations problems after the 2000 election got us the execrable touch screen machines.

    If anything, the recent "revelations" show that we should think seriously about reverting to manually counted paper ballots and tally sheets, with no software more complex than Visicalc and no computers or peripherals that ever touched a network.

    1. Donchik

      "some bias confirmation effects on the excessively gullible", you mean the electorate?

      Is that not the whole point of Putin's propaganda...

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Liberals...

    Its just "The Liberals" smarting from another Congressional Loss, so they have to keep making up stories about Russia hacking the Election and handing it to Trump. Just give up already. You lost, lost, and keep losing, for a reason. The real story is that we're going after Hilary Clinton again and this time, we will get her because she's "a very bad, bad person".... >:-)

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: The Liberals...

      Clearly this poster will be blaming Hillary for the hacking with the cry that if she'd been locked up as Trump demanded then none of this would have happened. All those RNC voter details, they came from Hillary's mail server.

      An entire country of Idiots, who would have thought it could happen...

      1. ecofeco Silver badge
        Mushroom

        An entire country of Idiots

        ..with the largest military on earth.

        Sleep well.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Liberals...

        "An entire country of Idiots, who would have thought it could happen..."

        Careful. Your ignorant bigotry is showing. And by the way, how's Brexit treating you? Theresa May? Snooper's Charter? GHCQ? You have NO moral high ground from which to insult a whole country of people.

  7. Vinyl-Junkie
    Alert

    In half the espionage thrillers of the 1970s and 80s...

    ...it was supposed to be the dream of the Kremlin to get a sleeper agent into the Oval Office.

    I never thought I'd actually see it happen!

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: In half the espionage thrillers of the 1970s and 80s...

      Except he is not exactly sleeping (except maybe on the job)

      1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

        Re: In half the espionage thrillers of the 1970s and 80s...

        @ Mr or Ms WeBop,

        Sleeping on the job?!? He's cut public housing's budget by 29% And the funds that pay for his own housing properties by 1/2%, meaning his millions from income on those keeps rolling in. I think he's doing a fine and active job!

    2. Archtech Silver badge

      Re: In half the espionage thrillers of the 1970s and 80s...

      Trump is obviously not a Russian agent. If he were, he would be fluent in English.

  8. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    propaganda?

    "the use of Russia's English-language state media as a strategic messaging platform"

    However true that may be, how many US voters watch RT (or have even heard of it) and thus how much influence would it have in the real world?

    1. Random Handle

      Re: propaganda?

      >However true that may be, how many US voters watch RT

      Just finished watching the Putin Interviews (Oliver Stone) which probably has the 'propaganda value' of a hundred RTs. Putin actually makes a far more credible and candid interviewee than Trump or Clinton.

      Worth it just for the 'Googlebox' moment of Stone & Putin watching Whoops Apocalypse. The Snowden discussion is also quite enlightening.

    2. Tom Paine Silver badge

      Re: propaganda?

      If you poke around your favourite search engine you'll see that a remarkable number of fake stories over the last 12-18 months started out on RT or Sputnik, were picked up by Brietbart or Infowars, then Fox, and end up tweet'd by the Pervert In Chief.

      I just did a cursory search, here's the first hit:

      http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/06/russian-active-measures-trump-propaganda-conspiracy-theories/

      (lots more out there from less obviously partisan sources than MJ.)

      You might also find this report interesting:

      http://blog.trendmicro.com/trendlabs-security-intelligence/online-economy-fake-news/

      Or, from the horses mouth -- quoting lots of Russian intel, military and political sources --

      https://www.ndc.nato.int/news/news.php?icode=995

      Enjoy...

  9. jrchips

    What exactly does "the weaponization of stolen cyber information" mean?

    Without specific examples this just sounds like a lot of alarmist arm-waving.

    1. cambsukguy

      It means that someone releases the info that HC used a private email server but makes it sound as if it were Treasonous, rather than something many in her position did previously.

      It releases email information that suggests HC had views on subjects that some people might not like, perhaps 'Choice' and the death penalty or that she dislikes this person or that person.

      It means stories like HC and someone else ran a Child P0rn ring out of a Pizza joint in DC.

      Sufficient and continuous 'Fake News' can and does affect people, it increases confirmation bias and increases the likelihood of waverers moving to a given side.

      It has taken a long time, with many still disputing the facts, for most of the (US) public to 'know' that Obama was born in the USA and is also not a Muslim.

      And, since DT was in at the start (or started) that disgusting lie (the lie itself, not being non-American or a Muslim of course) - it says a great deal about the person without all the additional and ample evidence that he is not fit for office.

      The simple fact is that it took only a small amount of swing in a small number of places to make the difference in the outcome.

      It is like someone complaining of losing a race right at the end because the opponent (or a supporter) bumped them just near the line... "You cheated, not fair", "You lost, stop complaining". In this case, James Comey must take a significant amount of the blame - the irony is incredible given the current situation.

      If only, like an Olympic medal, the Presidency could be taken and given to the next runner-up when malfeasance was detected and subsequently confirmed.

      We can only hope that the system makes the maximum correction possible, despite the fact that a lunatic would be replaced by a nutcase.

      In the meantime, we will enjoy the comedy and the fact that he hates his new life, because he didn't want it in the first place.

      But then, I am not an American so I don't feel the abject shame that I would if I were.

      1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        If only, like an Olympic medal, the Presidency could be taken and given to the next runner-up when malfeasance was detected and subsequently confirmed.

        Have you seen our government officials? That would wind up getting down to the junior dog catcher in Peoria but that person is likely way too smart to take the job. Of course if it also gets rid of everyone in Congress as well so we can start again with a clean slate, I'm all for it.

    2. Archtech Silver badge

      Truth - they don't like it up 'em

      'What exactly does "the weaponization of stolen cyber information" mean?'

      It means revealing truths that powerful people want to keep secret. What used to be known as "journalism", even in America.

      "News is something someone doesn't want printed. All else is advertizing".

      - William Randolph Hearst

      1. W4YBO

        Re: Truth - they don't like it up 'em

        "News is something someone doesn't want printed. All else is advertizing".

        - William Randolph Hearst - The inventor of "Yellow Journalism" and at least part of the reason that marijuana is illegal in most countries.

      2. Tom Paine Silver badge

        Re: Truth - they don't like it up 'em

        Lots of Russians or Russian stooges out today, I see,

    3. Tom Paine Silver badge

      What the fuck

      ...do you THINK it means, dumdum?

      You remember the hacked DNC mails being dumped, perhaps?

      jesus has everyone been living under a rock for the last 9 months?!

  10. iron Silver badge

    "cyber manipulation of US election systems intended to change the outcome of a national election would be detected"

    Hahahaha keep telling yourselves that.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      If the facts support it

      If the facts support that the Russians worked to change the US election systems, as they did and do in Ukraine etc etc, then I will believe it. I know that many voters found themselves not registered etc, on the day of voting, and other things indicative of meddling where being raised early. It's why the security agencies started to dig. Or do you think the FBI etc are 100% Democrat stooges?

      1. Archtech Silver badge

        Re: If the facts support it

        How do you know the Russians interfered with Ukrainian elections? Facts and sources, please, not just "everyone knows".

        1. James 51 Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Re: If the facts support it

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_military_intervention_in_Ukraine_%282014%E2%80%93present%29

          1. Archtech Silver badge

            Re: If the facts support it

            Wikipedia is not a source for current events.

  11. Robert D Bank

    Look closer to home

    The reality is there's more tinkering of voter registration going on internally to the states than from any external player. The journalist Greg Palast has been pursuing this since the 2004 election when he found out about these 'scrub lists' that each state maintain. Thousands of people's votes are illegally nullified through these lists, certainly enough to swing election results. And the people affected are completely unaware of the fact.

    QUOTE: 'We estimate that before the last election, 1.1 million voters were removed from voter rolls in sates where Crosscheck was being used. Crosscheck is the flawed-by-design, racist vote purging system instigated by Trump’s Vote Suppressor in Chief, Kris Kobach, who this past week was appointed as the Vice Chair of the Presidential Commission for Election Integrity'

  12. TVU Silver badge

    Homeland Security: Putin’s hackers tried to crack electoral networks in 21 US states

    Kind of backfired on them since Trump's been unpredictable and he's stood up to Putin's pet stooge poodle in Syria by bombing an airbase used to launch a civilian gas attack, downing a Syrian Su-22 ground attack jet plane, shooting down surveillance drones, and shooting up threatening Syrian military convoys in a way that Obama (or Hillary) never would have done. Be careful what you wish for.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Homeland Security: Putin’s hackers tried to crack electoral networks in 21 US states

      Although he generously fore-warned the Russians so they could be clear of the bombing of the airbase. Not sure how Assad has been hindered, given that the Russians and Assad continue to clean up and the USA is trailing along. I'd love the USA under any president to stop supporting corrupt dictators and to take them down, but the USA only does when the dictator is no longer useful or has become an embarrassment.

    2. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Homeland Security: Putin’s hackers tried to crack electoral networks in 21 US states

      Arresting a lieutenant to say you don’t have ties to a king pin doesn't mean you're not in the pocket of organised crime:

      http://uk.businessinsider.com/eric-trump-says-syria-strike-shows-there-is-no-tie-between-russia-president-donald-trump-2017-4?r=US&IR=T

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it time already ..

    .. to start a Twitter tag #FakePresident?

    Doesn't matter if he is or is not, but the public conclusion of active interference is enough to cast doubt, and vague doubt (using the Republicans' methods against them) is really all you need.

    I would agree with people claiming that #IllegitimatePresident would be more accurate, but the whole point is to irritate the heck out of Trump. You can't poke fun at his ego if you use too many syllables for him to read it.. We may even need a drawing to go with it. Alternatively, there is already relevant merchandise :).

  14. dncnvncd

    Jeh Johnson is hardly quotable. His agency, Dept. of Homeland Security, clandestinely tried to hack voter info in at least 19 states. Guess the Russians were better at influencing the election than Johnson, Hillary and Barry.

    1. ForthIsNotDead

      Do you have a source for that?

  15. Archtech Silver badge

    You can be sure...

    ... that if the Russian state had hacked into those systems, there would be no hard objective evidence that it was the Russian state.

    If there is any more--or-less convincing-looking evidence that it was the Russian state, it will have been deliberately set up by someone who wishes to suggest that.

  16. ForthIsNotDead

    Still not convinced...

    I presume (the article does not say) they suspect that the culprits were Russian because the network traffic was emanating from Russia itself.

    You'd have to be a special kind of dumb not disguise the whereabouts of your hacking attempts. I mean, seriously. If the Russian state actors were going to attempt a hack (and why wouldn't they; in all probability, *most* governments probably try this sort of stuff) then wouldn't they conspire to give the impression that the perpetrators were Chinese or North Korean? It's not hard. I can make El Reg think this post is coming from the USA (I'm in the UK) or Canada, or Singapore or one of about 40 countries with three clicks of my mouse (I'm running a VPN). It's that simple. Genuine hacking attempts would of course be much more sophisticated. You would use "zombie" compromised computers in a different country, that are owned by somebody else (perhaps innocent members of the public), that you can control. Thus tracing efforts would lead back to the compromised computers, but not to the hacker who is "behind" the compromised computers.

    Additionally: If "The Russians" *were* hacking the election systems (they probably were) I'm going to posit that they were doing so in order to monitor the real election results, because of a suspicion that the election was going to be fixed, rather than actively change the result. If they determined (for example) that Trump "really" won, but Clinton actually got the White House, they would use that knowledge as blackmail against Clinton.

    Finally: If the Russians were hacking in to the election system, (and I think we have to be sensible and admit that there is a genuine possibility that could indeed be the case) that in no way proves, or even insinuates that Trump, or any of his associates had any knowledge of it whatsoever. As I say, the Russians would have used the information as blackmail against whichever candidate was in the White House under false pretences.

  17. Nimby
    FAIL

    When a system is broken, does hacking it really make any difference?

    Who cares about the damage Russia may or may not have done? The real hackers were our Founding Fathers whom instituted the Electoral College, and the numbnuts who still cling to it today. It's a system intentionally designed to change people's votes "for their own good".

    What happens when an "election" is NOT decided by the Popular Vote? The vote in which Hillarious won and Trumped-Up lost?

    Then look at how much further the cards are stacked when by a system in which typically only two presidential candidates even have the potential to get enough votes to be elected. And then BOTH majority parties offer up candidates so incredibly unsuitable to run a country. What happens then?

    We The People lose, that's what happens. Welcome to American "democracy". This election never had a chance for anyone to "win". All it offered was a variety of ways in which we could lose.

  18. ecofeco Silver badge
    Holmes

    And that's that

    So it's true after all.

    How about that.

  19. Emmeran

    Wow - didn't take long for the Trump/Putin bots to show up.

    1. Atomic Nixon

      Wow, the only person here who doesn't understand that...

      "You can be sure...... that if the Russian state had hacked into those systems, there would be no hard objective evidence that it was the Russian state. If there is any more--or-less convincing-looking evidence that it was the Russian state, it will have been deliberately set up by someone who wishes to suggest that."

      Totally dogmatic, clueless on cyber-security... must be a Hillary-Bot.

  20. Gnosis_Carmot

    And no mention of....

    ...DHS's documented and unauthorized attempts to hack into the Georgia, West Virginia, and Kentucky voting networks.

  21. Tom Paine Silver badge
    FAIL

    It's amazing

    ...how incredibly intelligent sysadmins and developers are. Why, even without any exposure to IC methods or TTP, and without any assistance or insider knowledge except the firm understanding that the US IC are all evil crooks conspiring to make up bollocks to get rid of Trump.

    *golf clap*

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