21 states target of Kremlin-linked hackers: US official

The US Department of Homeland Security's Mr Samuel Liles testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington on Wednesday. His remarks add some clarity to the breadth of the Kremlin's cyber mischief in last year's presidential election.
The US Department of Homeland Security's Mr Samuel Liles testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington on Wednesday. His remarks add some clarity to the breadth of the Kremlin's cyber mischief in last year's presidential election.PHOTO: REUTERS

But vote-tallying mechanisms of election-related systems unaffected

WASHINGTON • People connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states, a Department of Homeland Security official testified on Wednesday.

Mr Samuel Liles, the department's acting director of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Cyber Division, said vote-tallying mechanisms were unaffected and that the hackers appeared to be scanning for vulnerabilities - which he likened to walking down the street and looking at homes to see who might be inside. But hackers successfully exploited a "small number" of networks, he said, likening the act to making it through a home's front door.

Mr Liles was testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is probing Russia's efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, and his remarks add some clarity to the breadth of the Kremlin's cyber mischief. Officials in Arizona and Illinois had previously confirmed hackers targeted their voter registration system, though news reports suggested that the Russian effort was much broader.

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Russian hackers "hit" systems in 39 states, and the Intercept, citing a classified intelligence document, reported that Russian military intelligence "executed a cyber attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing e-mails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November's presidential election".

In a separate hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, former Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson testified that Russia's meddling, directed by President Vladimir Putin, was "unprecedented, the scale and the scope of what we saw them doing".

The testimony came a day after White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing he did not know whether President Donald Trump believes Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

In addition to scanning voting systems for vulnerabilities, Russian hackers acquired and engineered the release of e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Mrs Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, Mr John Podesta, according to US intelligence committees.

RUSSIAN ELECTION MEDDLING

The Internet has allowed Russia to do so much more today than they've ever been able to do in the past.

MR BILL PRIESTAP, FBI assistant director of counterintelligence.

Mr Johnson said the severity of Russia's efforts persuaded him to sign an Oct 7 statement publicly blaming the Kremlin for what had happened, even though doing so could have been perceived as "taking sides" or "challenging the integrity of the election itself".

Officials declined to name the 21 states targeted or identify those with data - like voter registration lists - removed from their systems, citing confidentiality concerns.

FBI assistant director of counterintelligence Bill Priestap testified on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russians also pushed false news reports and propaganda online, using amplifiers to spread their message. He said Russia for years has tried to influence US elections, but the "scale" and "aggressiveness" of its efforts last year made the attempts more significant. "The Internet has allowed Russia to do so much more today than they've ever been able to do in the past."

He said Russia's goal was to "sow discord" in the US and to "denigrate" Mrs Clinton and help Mr Trump.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2017, with the headline '21 states target of Kremlin-linked hackers: US official'. Print Edition | Subscribe