States bolster defenses against Russia election hacking

The Russians assaulted Illinois, and now authorities vow to protect the state.

“In a sense, it’s a statement of war. It’s a cyberwar, ” told Steve Sandvoss, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

“When a foreign government assaults your system, obviously you know they are up to no good, ” he told Fox News. “Elections being a central part of our republic, being attacked by a foreign government I think everybody in the country should be concerned about that.”

“When a foreign government assaults your system, obviously you know they are up to no good.”

– Steve Sandvoss, executive director, Illinois State Board of Elections

As the national debate over election security focuses on ways to protect the integrity of our country’s election system, officials in Illinois know firsthand the effect of being attacked by Moscow.

The invasion did not put any Russian troops on the ground, but millions of computer makes that attacked the state’s voter rolls for weeks during the 2016 presidential campaign. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security said hackers from the GRU, the Russian intelligence service, successfully assaulted the Illinois Board of Elections computers.

State officials said up to 80,000 voter registration records were accessed. It turned out that the greatest concentration of breached files belonged to the residents of Galesburg. A total of 14, 121 residents, or almost half of the city’s population, had their voter registration information compromised.

“I surely don’t want to be on the front of any cyberwar, ” Sandvoss said.” We are as prepared as we can be.”

“The Russians would be making a serious mistake if they came with hostile aims, ” Galesburg Mayor John Pritchard said. “We probably don’t take kindly to outside interference into our political process.”

He noted that “there were no changes made to our records , no deletions or additions. But the latter are viewed.”

Small query explodes

The attack began June 23, 2016, with a small external computer query that exploded inside system three weeks later. The number of reaches remained at five hits per second, and after roughly one month, suddenly stopped.

“It was noticeable because our processing system was deteriorating, the system was slowing down, ” Sandvoss told. “We induced the decision to closed the organizations of the system down.”

The state’s system remained offline for several weeks.

“Thankfully there was no evidence that any of the records were changed, manipulated or deleted, ” Sandvoss said.

“Thankfully there was no evidence that any of the records were changed, manipulated or deleted.”

– Steve Sandvoss, executive director, Illinois State Board of Elections

Officials eventually found that seven of the IP addresses used by the attackers were traced to the Netherlands, including to two groups known as “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear, ” the names, officials told, for Russian intelligence operations. It turned out that Galesburg happens to have a nine-digit voter number that the hackers were able to haphazardly access.

“We came up short on the luck side, ” Mayor Pritchard noted.

Additional defenses

State officials are doing more than merely will vary depending on luck. They said they have utilized numerous additional defenses of voter information to try to prevent any future hacks.

“I don’t think that you can protect the system entirely, ” Sandvoss noted. “We do our best, of course, to strengthen the system.”

He said that the Board of Elections has since hardened its defenses and has implemented new procedures to protect it for the mid-terms and the 2020 general elections. This includes downloading daily antivirus protection software, monitoring servers and daily logs, conducting a vulnerability appraisal, and taking other steps. The federal government has also provided $13 million to beef up security.

“We haven’t assured anything of the caliber of the original attack, ” Sandvoss said. “Our system get reached every day by malicious software, but it gets stopped at the firewall level.”

“There’s always room for improvement in terms of IT, ” Democratic state Sen. Michael Hastings, president of the State Cyber Committee, insisted. He has held hearings on the hacking and praises the steps the Board of Elections has taken to protect the voter rolls

“We are going to continue to be vigilant, ” he promised, but wonders, “are we doing enough? “

Hastings knows firsthand the precious privilege that voting represents. He is a 37 -year-old graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y ., who was an offensive lineman on the Army’s football team and deployed to Iraq. He is now serving his third word as a legislator and brings the same vigor and can-do spirit of his Army days to fighting the new cyberenemy that attacked his nation and country.

‘A sacred right’

“I’m not angry at the outcome of the election, I was more worried about the security of our democracy. Serving overseas in Iraq, serving in the military for 10 years, I believe that voting is a sacred right for all Americans, ” he told. “And I want to make sure that Illinois residents feel safe and secure, in casting your vote for whatever candidate they select, whoever that may be, and having these investigations to provide the assurances to Illinois residents, that our voter systems are secure, or will be secure, is the upmost significance to me.”

“( H) aving these investigations to provide such assurances to Illinois residents, that our voter systems are procure, or will be secure, is the upmost significance to me.”

– Illinois state Sen. Michael Hastings, chairman of the State Cyber Committee

“Overall, people still trust the process and I think people are more vigilant now than ever, ” he continued.

Hastings, who has faced America’s foes on the battlefield, said the cyberenemy can be as lethal to our republic, and that the nation must be prepared.

“People forget what stimulates this country great in the fact that we are a republic, and the fact that I fought to protect our republic, ” he told. “I hold it very sacred and I’ll do anything I can to protect it.”

Fox News’ Whitney Ksiazek contributed to this report .

Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter: @EricShawnTV

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