Politics & Government

Russian hackers targeted Florida, 20 other states in 2016 election

This Oct. 14, 2016 photo shows the names of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a voting machine during preparations for the upcoming election in Philadelphia. Researchers would like to see the U.S. move entirely to computer-scannable paper ballots, since paper can’t be hacked.
This Oct. 14, 2016 photo shows the names of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a voting machine during preparations for the upcoming election in Philadelphia. Researchers would like to see the U.S. move entirely to computer-scannable paper ballots, since paper can’t be hacked. AP

Florida, one of the most hotly contested political battlegrounds of 2016, was among 21 states targeted by Russia-based hackers during the presidential election, the Homeland Security Department told Tallahassee on Friday.

The attempt was unsuccessful, according to the Florida Department of State.

Other states targeted by hackers include California, Texas and Washington, according to McClatchy. The Associated Press also identified Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin as other targeted states.

Federal officials knew well before Election Day 2016 that Russian operatives were attempting to gain access to election systems in the United States. Indeed, a team of cyber experts was blocked in its push to patch voting systems before November.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said it was unacceptable that it took almost a year to notify states.

“We have to do better in the future,” said Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “Our elections are the bedrock of our democracy, and DHS needs to notify states and localities in real-time when their systems are targeted.”

Miami Herald reported in June that Russian hackers tried to break into the computer systems of at least five county election offices — Hillsborough, Pasco, Citrus, Clay and Volusia — days before the November election.

“The Department of State was notified by the Department of Homeland Security today that Florida was unsuccessfully targeted by hackers last year. This attempt was not in any way successful and Florida’s online elections databases and voting systems remained secure,” the Department of State said Friday evening. “Ensuring the security and integrity of Florida’s elections remains our top priority.”

Republican Donald Trump won Florida and its 29 electoral votes by nearly 113,00 votes over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton en route to his electoral college victory. Both campaigns devoted significant time and resources to winning Florida.

“As part of our ongoing information sharing efforts, today DHS notified the Secretary of State or other chief election officer in each state of any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election. We will continue to keep this information confidential and defer to each state whether it wishes to make it public or not,” said Scott McConnell, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

A Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agency's election security efforts are confidential, said that in the majority of the 21 states, the Russians engaged only in “preparatory activity” such as by scanning the cyber defenses surrounding each system.

While attempts to compromise some state networks were unsuccessful, the official said, “a small number of networks were successfully compromised. In no case, were the targeted systems involved in the tallying of votes.”

McClatchy DC staff writer Greg Gordon contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the margin of victory in Florida.

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