Voter registration officials in 21 states have contacted the Department of Homeland Security to request help in dealing with attempts to break into their voter registration systems.
Responding to a letter sent from the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reiterated his earlier messages about the willingness of his department to help states deal with cyber-attacks aimed at the voting process.
So far, 20 states have experienced intrusions of sufficient severity that are considered causes for concern by DHS. The department has not said which states have been attacked. This is a significant increase since earlier this year, when only two states had reported being attacked.
At this point, there are few details about what the hackers were after, although in most cases it appears it was voter registration databases rather than voting machines or the IT systems that support voting results.
While apparently some of the hackers have relationships with other criminal elements in Russia and have been involved in other Russian state-sponsored activities, there's no evidence that the Russian government was directing the hacking of U.S. voter registration data.
So what's going on here? At this point, not much. So far only two states, Arizona and Illinois, have actually had any voter information taken. The other attempts have been serious enough to raise concerns, but they haven't been successful. The hackers have, in the words of FBI Director James Comey, been "poking around."
Comey's statement, which came from Congressional testimony on this topic made last week and provided by the FBI in an email to eWEEK, is part of an effort to differentiate between attempts to breach voter registration data and to influence the upcoming November election.
"We are urging the states just to make sure that their deadbolts are thrown and their locks are on and to get the best information they can from DHS just to make sure their systems are secure," Comey said in his statement. "And again, these are the voter registration systems. This is very different than the vote system in the United States which is very, very hard for someone to hack into because it's so clunky and dispersed."
As Comey indicates, much of the concern about the voter database hacking has been around whether this somehow means that the vote tally in some areas can be fudged by a foreign power. This would be very difficult to achieve because the voting systems in the United States have been so resistant to change and so disorganized, there is no one way to break into and change anything. There is no central repository of voting results.