Did Wisconsin’s voting system get targeted by Russian hackers, as the Department of Homeland Security claimed in a letter last week? Or did the hackers miss it entirely — as DHS told the state’s Election Commission yesterday? Or does DHS merely suspect that they got targeted, as they hinted after getting challenged on their reversal?
Only their hairdresser knows for sure, it seems:
The federal Department of Homeland Security reversed itself Tuesday and told Wisconsin officials that the Russian government had not tried to hack the state’s voter registration system last year.
Instead, Homeland Security said, the Russians had attempted to access a computer system controlled by another state agency. …
Juan Figueroa, a member of Homeland Security’s election infrastructure team, on Tuesday told state officials by email that Wisconsin’s voter registration system had not been targeted in a hacking attempt after all. He said Russians had tried to access a computer system run by the state Department of Workforce Development.
“One additional follow-up from our analysis team before this is shared publicly, based on our external analysis, the WI IP address affected belongs to the WI Department of Workforce Development, not the Elections Commission,” Figueroa wrote in his email.
Hmmmm. That seems like a pretty basic error, no? One would expect forensic investigators tracking a group of Russian hackers to double-check their data on the IP addresses of the servers allegedly impacted. How many other states got the wrong information?
Don’t bother asking DHS for an explanation; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tried that and got nowhere. When state officials complained about the sudden reversal, however, DHS semi-reversed it and claimed that the issue went beyond “specific IP addresses”:
But in a statement later to The Associated Press, Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell said that “discussions of specific IP addresses do not provide a complete picture of potential targeting activity.”
“The Department stands by its assessment that Internet-connected networks in 21 states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure,” McConnell said.
That double-talk has Wisconsin officials seeing red. They want a full explanation for their initial letter, and either an apology or a probe into a “cover-up”:
“Either they were right on Friday and this is a cover up, or they were wrong on Friday and we deserve an apology,” Mark Thomsen, the commission’s chairman, said in light of the new email.
Wisconsin’s chief elections administrator, Michael Haas, had repeatedly said that Homeland Security assured the state it had not been targeted.
“Wisconsin was not provided any information that indicated before the November election that Russian government actors were targeting election systems,” Haas said.
One can understand why Wisconsin officials feel like they’re getting pinballed by DHS. They believe that they had the proper security in place for last year’s elections, and never got told otherwise by DHS until last week. The news that DHS found Russian attempts to probe their system (which didn’t result in a successful penetration) came nearly eleven months after the election. Four days later, DHS tells them that they tracked the wrong IP address. Pardon them if they aren’t taking anything DHS says seriously at this point.
Wisconsin election officials understand that they have a target on their backs anyway. Wisconsin’s flip to the GOP after seven straight Democratic wins helped decide the election; their new voter-ID law has been cited by Hillary Clinton as one reason she lost, which falls directly at their doorstep. An implication that the Election Commission allowed hackers to penetrate their systems will only add to that litany of nonsensical excuses for Hillary’s incompetence and utter lack of attention to the state. Small wonder they’re aggressively demanding answers to this fumble at DHS, and perhaps other states should be demanding to see the basis for their conclusions as well.