US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia orchestrated wide-ranging influence operation that included email hacking and online propaganda to discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump, a Republican, win the White House in November. The state-sponsored hackers targeted 21 U.S. election systems in the 2016 presidential race but Feds didn’t reveal the name of hacked state systems to protect their confidentiality.
Jeh Johnson, who led the Homeland Security Department until the end of the Obama administration, said his department had issued warnings about hacking into voter registration databases.
A current Homeland Security Department official confirmed in front of the Congress on Wednesday that a small number of state election systems were breached but added that there was no evidence any votes were manipulated. Jeanette Manfra, the department’s acting deputy undersecretary of cybersecurity, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Russia issue has cast a shadow over Trump’s first five months in office. Trump has variously said Russia may or may not have been responsible for hacking but has dismissed allegations his associates colluded with Moscow as “fake news.” Kremlin too has repeatedly denied responsibility for any cyber attacks during the election.
Reported Russia has hacked up to 39 states’ systems, and Illinois and Arizona declared their systems were among those affected, but this marks the first time that federal officials themselves have publicly described the number of states that were penetrated successfully by Russian hacking.
In August of 2016, DHS started getting reports of “cyber-related scanning and probing” of U.S. election infrastructure, testified Samuel Liles, another DHS official. At this point, he said, the agency began analysing and sharing this information with federal, state, and local partners.
Johnson testified that a 2005 video of Donald Trump bragging of sexual conquests distracted attention from Washington’s warnings.
Manfra and other officials said U.S. elections are resilient to hacking in part because they are decentralised and largely operated on the state and local level.