REAL WORLD EVENT DISCUSSIONS

Russian Election Hacking Efforts, Wider Than Previously Known, Draw Little Scrutiny

POSTED BY: G
UPDATED: Monday, September 4, 2017 23:35
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Monday, September 4, 2017 9:09 AM

G

... fully loaded, safety off...


I remember watching election night thinking how it seemed Clinton was never ahead in many states that a large majority of the polls said she would win. Polls had said that she would win those states for as long as we knew who the 2 nominees were. But on that night she never led. I actually thought Russia was being too aggressive in their manipulation, and would blow their cover. It just felt too obvious.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/us/politics/russia-election-hacking
.html


"The calls started flooding in from hundreds of irate North Carolina voters just after 7 a.m. on Election Day last November.

Dozens were told they were ineligible to vote and were turned away at the polls, even when they displayed current registration cards. Others were sent from one polling place to another, only to be rejected. Scores of voters were incorrectly told they had cast ballots days earlier. In one precinct, voting halted for two hours.

Susan Greenhalgh, a troubleshooter at a nonpartisan election monitoring group, was alarmed. Most of the complaints came from Durham, a blue-leaning county in a swing state. The problems involved electronic poll books — tablets and laptops, loaded with check-in software, that have increasingly replaced the thick binders of paper used to verify voters’ identities and registration status. She knew that the company that provided Durham’s software, VR Systems, had been penetrated by Russian hackers months before.

“It felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack,” Ms. Greenhalgh said about the voting troubles in Durham.

There are plenty of other reasons for such breakdowns — local officials blamed human error and software malfunctions — and no clear-cut evidence of digital sabotage has emerged, much less a Russian role in it. Despite the disruptions, a record number of votes were cast in Durham, following a pattern there of overwhelming support for Democratic presidential candidates, this time Hillary Clinton."

But months later, for Ms. Greenhalgh, other election security experts and some state officials, questions still linger about what happened that day in Durham as well as other counties in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona.

After a presidential campaign scarred by Russian meddling, local, state and federal agencies have conducted little of the type of digital forensic investigation required to assess the impact, if any, on voting in at least 21 states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers, according to interviews with nearly two dozen national security and state officials and election technology specialists.

The assaults on the vast back-end election apparatus — voter-registration operations, state and local election databases, e-poll books and other equipment — have received far less attention than other aspects of the Russian interference, such as the hacking of Democratic emails and spreading of false or damaging information about Mrs. Clinton. Yet the hacking of electoral systems was more extensive than previously disclosed, The New York Times found.

Beyond VR Systems, hackers breached at least two other providers of critical election services well ahead of the 2016 voting, said current and former intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information is classified. The officials would not disclose the names of the companies.

Intelligence officials in January reassured Americans that there was no indication that Russian hackers had altered the vote count on Election Day, the bottom-line outcome. But the assurances stopped there.

Government officials said that they intentionally did not address the security of the back-end election systems, whose disruption could prevent voters from even casting ballots.

That’s partly because states control elections; they have fewer resources than the federal government but have long been loath to allow even cursory federal intrusions into the voting process.

That, along with legal constraints on intelligence agencies’ involvement in domestic issues, has hobbled any broad examination of Russian efforts to compromise American election systems. Those attempts include combing through voter databases, scanning for vulnerabilities or seeking to alter data, which have been identified in multiple states. Current congressional inquiries and the special counsel’s Russia investigation have not focused on the matter.

“We don’t know if any of the problems were an accident, or the random problems you get with computer systems, or whether it was a local hacker, or actual malfeasance by a sovereign nation-state,” said Michael Daniel, who served as the cybersecurity coordinator in the Obama White House. “If you really want to know what happened, you’d have to do a lot of forensics, a lot of research and investigation, and you may not find out even then.”

In interviews, academic and private election security experts acknowledged the challenges of such diagnostics but argued that the effort is necessary. They warned about what could come, perhaps as soon as next year’s midterm elections, if the existing mix of outdated voting equipment, haphazard election-verification procedures and array of outside vendors is not improved to build an effective defense against Russian or other hackers.

In Durham, a local firm with limited digital forensics or software engineering expertise produced a confidential report, much of it involving interviews with poll workers, on the county’s election problems. The report was obtained by The Times, and election technology specialists who reviewed it at the Times’ request said the firm had not conducted any malware analysis or checked to see if any of the e-poll book software was altered, adding that the report produced more questions than answers.

Neither VR Systems — which operates in seven states beyond North Carolina — nor local officials were warned before Election Day that Russian hackers could have compromised their software. After problems arose, Durham County rebuffed help from the Department of Homeland Security and Free & Fair, a team of digital election-forensics experts who volunteered to conduct a free autopsy. The same was true elsewhere across the country.

“I always got stonewalled,” said Joe Kiniry, the chief executive and chief scientist at Free & Fair.

Still, some of the incidents reported in North Carolina occur in every election, said Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on election administration.

“Election officials and advocates and reporters who were watching most closely came away saying this was an amazingly quiet election,” he said, playing down the notion of tampering. He added, though, that the problems in Durham and elsewhere raise questions about the auditing of e-poll books and security of small election vendors.

Ms. Greenhalgh shares those concerns. “We still don’t know if Russian hackers did this,” she said about what happened in North Carolina. “But we still don’t know that they didn’t.”

Disorder at the Polls

North Carolina went for Donald J. Trump in a close election. But in Durham County, Hillary Clinton won 78 percent of the 156,000 votes, winning by a larger margin than President Barack Obama had against Mitt Romney four years earlier.

While only a fraction of voters were turned away because of the e-poll book difficulties — more than half of the county cast their ballots days earlier — plenty of others were affected when the state mandated that the entire county revert to paper rolls on Election Day. People steamed as everything slowed. Voters gave up and left polling places in droves — there’s no way of knowing the numbers, but they include more than a hundred North Carolina Central University students facing four-hour delays.

At a call center operated by the monitoring group Election Protection, Ms. Greenhalgh was fielding technical complaints from voters in Mississippi, Texas and North Carolina. Only a handful came from the first two states.

Her account of the troubles matches complaints logged in the Election Incident Reporting System, a tracking tool created by nonprofit groups. As the problems mounted, The Charlotte Observer reported that Durham’s e-poll book vendor was Florida-based VR Systems, which Ms. Greenhalgh knew from a CNN report had been hacked earlier by Russians. “Chills went through my spine,” she recalled.

The vendor does not make the touch-screen equipment used to cast or tally votes and does not manage county data. But without the information needed to verify voters’ identities and eligibility, which county officials load onto VR’s poll books, voters cannot cast ballots at all.

Details of the breach did not emerge until June, in a classified National Security Agency report leaked to The Intercept, a national security news site. That report found that hackers from Russia’s military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., had penetrated the company’s computer systems as early as August 2016, then sent “spear-phishing” emails from a fake VR Systems account to 122 state and local election jurisdictions. The emails sought to trick election officials into downloading malicious software to take over their computers.

The N.S.A. analysis did not say whether the hackers had sabotaged voter data. “It is unknown,” the agency concluded, whether Russian phishing “successfully compromised the intended victims, and what potential data could have been accessed.”

VR Systems’ chief operating officer, Ben Martin, said he did not believe Russian hackers were successful. He acknowledged that the vendor was a “juicy target,” given that its systems are used in battleground states including North Carolina, Florida and Virginia. But he said that the company blocked access from its systems to local databases, and employs security protocols to bar intruders and digital triggers that sound alerts if its software is manipulated.

On Election Day, as the e-poll book problems continued, Ms. Greenhalgh urged an Election Protection colleague in North Carolina to warn the state Board of Elections of a cyberattack and suggest that it call in the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security. In an email, she also warned a Homeland Security election specialist of the problems. Later, the specialist told her Durham County had rejected the agency’s help.

When Ms. Greenhalgh, who works at Verified Voting, a nonprofit dedicated to election integrity, followed up with the North Carolina colleague, he reported that state officials said they would not require federal help.

“He said: ‘The state does not view this as a problem. There’s nothing we can do, so we’ve moved on to other things,’” Ms. Greenhalgh recalled. “Meanwhile, I’m thinking, ‘What could be more important to move on to?’”

An Interference Campaign

The idea of subverting the American vote by hacking election systems is not new. In an assessment of Russian cyberattacks released in January, intelligence agencies said Kremlin spy services had been collecting information on election processes, technology and equipment in the United States since early 2014.

The Russians shied away from measures that might alter the “tallying” of votes, the report added, a conclusion drawn from American spying and intercepts of Russian officials’ communications and an analysis by the Department of Homeland Security, according to the current and former government officials.

The most obvious way to rig an election — controlling hundreds or thousands of decentralized voting machines — is also the most difficult. During a conference of computer hackers last month in Las Vegas, participants had direct access and quickly took over more than 30 voting machines. But remotely infiltrating machines of different makes and models and then covertly changing the vote count is far more challenging.

Beginning in 2015, the American officials said, Russian hackers focused instead on other internet-accessible targets: computers at the Democratic National Committee, state and local voter databases, election websites, e-poll book vendors and other back-end election services.

Apart from the Russian influence campaign intended to undermine Mrs. Clinton and other Democratic officials, the impact of the quieter Russian hacking efforts at the state and county level has not been widely studied. Federal officials have been so tight-lipped that not even many election officials in the 21 states the hackers assaulted know whether their systems were compromised, in part because they have not been granted security clearances to examine the classified evidence.

The January intelligence assessment implied that the Russian hackers had achieved broader access than has been assumed. Without elaborating, the report said the Russians had “obtained and maintained access to multiple U.S. state and local election boards.”

Two previously acknowledged strikes in June 2016 hint at Russian ambitions. In Arizona, Russian hackers successfully stole a username and password for an election official in Gila County. And in Illinois, Russian hackers inserted a malicious program into the Illinois State Board of Elections’ database. According to Ken Menzel, the board’s general counsel, the program tried unsuccessfully “to alter things other than voter data” — he declined to be more specific — and managed to illegally download registration files for 90,000 voters before being detected.

On Election Day last year, a number of counties reported problems similar to those in Durham. In North Carolina, e-poll book incidents occurred in the counties that are home to the state’s largest cities, including Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville and Charlotte. Three of Virginia’s most populous counties — Prince William, Loudoun, and Henrico — as well as Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, and Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, also reported difficulties. All were attributed to software glitches.

Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, argued for more scrutiny of suspicious incidents. “We must harden our cyber defenses, and thoroughly educate the American public about the danger posed” by attacks,” he said in an email. “In other words: we are not making our elections any safer by withholding information about the scope and scale of the threat.”

In Durham County, officials have rejected any notion that an intruder sought to alter the election outcome. “We do not believe, and evidence does not suggest, that hacking occurred on Election Day,” Derek Bowens, the election director, said in a recent email.

But last month, after inquiries from reporters and the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, Durham county officials voted to turn over laptops and other devices to the board for further analysis. It was not clear which government agency or private forensics firm, would conduct the investigation.

Ms. Greenhalgh will be watching closely. “What people focus on is, ‘Did someone mess with the vote totals?’” she said. “What they don’t realize is that messing with the e-poll books to keep people from voting is just as effective.’”

==============

The great thing about this strategy is it doesn't even have to work, just sowing the seeds of doubt is enough. Plus, no one wants to nvestigate and find out it actually happened because that would almost be doing Russia's bidding (sowing seeds of doubt). We could never admit it. Brilliant.

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Monday, September 4, 2017 9:24 AM

6STRINGJOKER


Quote:

Originally posted by G:
The great thing about this strategy is it doesn't even have to work, just sowing the seeds of doubt is enough. Plus, no one wants to nvestigate and find out it actually happened because that would almost be doing Russia's bidding (sowing seeds of doubt). We could never admit it. Brilliant.



Yup. Who's sowing the seeds of doubt... still... in September?

Ah, that's right.... the MSM.

You're so quick to tell everybody else to stop talking about Hillary. I suggest you and the MSM do the same.



That being said, I never agreed with having the machines in the first place. I thought it was a terrible idea from day one. I know that they're here to stay now, no matter how many good reasons there are not to use them.

I guess this is just another bitching point now when somebody loses, like the Electoral College that never gets talked about again a half a year after an election.

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Monday, September 4, 2017 2:37 PM

G

... fully loaded, safety off...


Quote:

Originally posted by 6stringJoker:
Quote:

Originally posted by G:
The great thing about this strategy is it doesn't even have to work, just sowing the seeds of doubt is enough. Plus, no one wants to nvestigate and find out it actually happened because that would almost be doing Russia's bidding (sowing seeds of doubt). We could never admit it. Brilliant.



Yup. Who's sowing the seeds of doubt... still... in September?

Ah, that's right.... the MSM.

You're so quick to tell everybody else to stop talking about Hillary. I suggest you and the MSM do the same.

That being said, I never agreed with having the machines in the first place. I thought it was a terrible idea from day one. I know that they're here to stay now, no matter how many good reasons there are not to use them.

I guess this is just another bitching point now when somebody loses, like the Electoral College that never gets talked about again a half a year after an election.



People usually talk about Hillary to deflect from Trump. Goddamn right I'm sowing seeds - so we can wake up and see the truth, at least be aware of what easily could or probably did happened. Roll over and go back to sleep.

==============================

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Monday, September 4, 2017 3:54 PM

1KIKI

Goodbye, kind world (George Monbiot) - In common with all those generations which have contemplated catastrophe, we appear to be incapable of understanding what confronts us.


How did you go from this "and no clear-cut evidence of digital sabotage has emerged, much less a Russian role in it" to this "probably did happened"?

What you're missing is evidence ... any credible evidence at all. Because when you get down to details, even your own source - YOUR OWN SOURCE - debunks your claim.

I know the media, and you, are working on the propagandists' rule: political truths are established by incessant repetition. But I'm working on an older and simpler one: the boy who cried wolf. And at this point I can barely get the interest together to respond to yet another false alarm, even to debunk it.






Trump is not the problem. He set himself against the Deep State's agenda. And the Deep State's been heading for WWIII for years.
As for you, you're just a Deep State useful idiot, furthering its agenda. So I hope you enjoy cesium in your coffee. You've earned it.

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Monday, September 4, 2017 6:34 PM

6STRINGJOKER


Right?

I've had to listen to this bullshit for 8 months now, and I'm the one who's sleeping.

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Monday, September 4, 2017 9:14 PM

6STRINGJOKER


Quote:

Originally posted by G:
People usually talk about Hillary to deflect from Trump.



I don't. I try not to bring her up, but I do on occasion only to say that no matter what the state of things now I'm still happy I voted for Trump over Hillary. Nothing that has happened so far has even made me question for a second that decision.

The only thing that I do somewhat regularly bring up is how bad a president Obama was for perspective. I think if you look in my previous posts that even when I do that it is almost always accompanied by my highly negative opinion on the job that was done under the GWB administration as well.

Quote:

Goddamn right I'm sowing seeds


Good for you. Free advertising for Maddow and Olbermann and the like.

Quote:

so we can wake up and see the truth


I'm woke. The problem is, I can't have a serious conversation with most people because they have the attention spans of 5 year olds, completely forget about the recent past and operate almost exclusively on "feels".

I'm not saying that other people are asleep. It's just that the internet and social media has turned everybody into two individual entities with millions of voices all echoing the same bullshit. Doesn't matter which one you're a part of. Talking to anybody who's part of either one is wasted breath.

Quote:

at least be aware of what easily could


Easily could? Nobody has ever given any proof that any of this could "easily" have been done. In fact, the claims are so vague even to this day as to what supposedly even happened. I won't even argue that it might not have been all that hard to do with the right people involved.

What isn't easy, and I'll go as far as to say would be damn near impossible, is to cover your tracks. If something did happen, it is known.

Why don't we know any details at all? I don't have a clue. I have theories about it, but they're hardly even worth discussing. It's not like you or I are going to have any power to do anything about any of it even if we hit that nail on the head.

Quote:

or probably did happened.


There it is. Perception.

Wanting to believe something so badly and hearing it a thousand times from supposedly legitimate sources makes it true, even though there is zero evidence provided to the public, and there still isn't even any actual solid claims of what even was supposed to have happened.

"It probably happened because I want to believe."

Quote:

Roll over and go back to sleep.


Not a bad idea. I've got some actual real life things to work on that I actually have some power over the outcomes that need tending to.

Keep up the good fight on our behalf. Don't have a stroke in the mean time.

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Monday, September 4, 2017 11:20 PM

WISHIMAY

There will be fire and brimstone and Earth will be destroyed!... in several billion years!----------------------------------------- "Well, so long Earth. Thanks for the air... and what-not." -Philip J. Fry


Quote:

Originally posted by 6stringJoker:


I'm woke. The problem is, I can't have a serious conversation with most people because they have the attention spans of 5 year olds, completely forget about the recent past and operate almost exclusively on "feels".




Ba. ba ha. BAAA HAAAAA HAAAAA HAAAAAA HAAAAA.

Rolling...on...the...floor....laughing.

Thanks for that ironic laugh, man

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Monday, September 4, 2017 11:35 PM

6STRINGJOKER


No problem. Always happy to do anything I can to give you a 30 second break from being a total bitch the other 23 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds of the day.

It must be exhausting.

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