Russian hackers targeted voting systems in nearly 50% of states in the 2016 US presidential election, officials have revealed in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee
US officials have yet to reveal which US state voting systems were targeted by Kremlin-linked hackers during the voting that saw Donald Trump elected as president, citing confidentiality agreements.
US intelligence agencies have claimed that Russian hacking during the elections was aimed at helping Trump to win, but Jeanatte Manfra, the acting deputy undersecretary of cyber security at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said there was no evidence to suggest actual vote ballots were altered in the election hack, according to the BBC.
“We have evidence that election-related systems in 21 states were targeted,” she said, but added that DHS still had confidence in the US voting systems because they are “fundamentally resilient”.
Republican senator Marco Rubio expressed concern, saying that, as the investigation continues, “it is important Americans understand how our voting systems work and communicate that in real time”.
In similar testimony, acting director of the DHS cyber division Samuel Liles said DHS detected hacking activities last spring and summer and later received reports of cyber probing of election systems, but added that none of these systems were involved in vote tallying.
FBI Counterintelligence Division assistant director Bill Priestap said Russia’s end game was power. He said since Russia lost its standing after the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow and Putin have been on a mission to restore it, primarily by weakening the US and its allies through “information warfare”, reports CNN.
“The primary goal (of the 2016 effort) in my mind was to sow discord, and to try to de-legitimise our free and fair election process,” said Priestap. “Another of their goals, which the entire United States intelligence community stands behind, was to denigrate secretary (Hillary) Clinton and to try to help the current president, Trump.”
Priestap said Russia had conducted influence campaigns regarding US elections “for years” but typically with things such as half-true stories printed in media outlets. This time, he said, the scale and sophistication were different.
“What made this different in many regards is, of course, the degree and what you can do through electronic systems today,” said Priestap.
“The scale and aggressiveness of the effort made this one different and, again, it’s because of the electronic infrastructure ... that allowed Russia to do things that in the past they were unable to do.”
Priestap said the Russians engaged in a combination of pushing out fake news, using social media to boost its narrative and hacking into emails and selectively releasing damaging information.
Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in election-related hacking and Trump has dismissed allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia as “fake news”.
US intelligence agencies and various independent cyber security researchers have attributed the cyber attacks that occurred during the 2016 US election to hacker groups linked to the Kremlin, such as the hacking group known as Fancy Bear or Iron Twilight.
A survey conducted in the run up to the UK general election in June revealed that online voting is being held back in the UK because of fears that cyber criminals could influence the results.
According to the survey, 40% of Britons feared that the UK general election on on 8 June might be targeted by hackers.
“Claims that Russian hackers had some influence on last year’s US presidential elections have sparked a wave of scepticism around the safety of electronic voting here in the UK,” said Pete Turner, consumer security expert at Avast, which carried out the survey.