Did Russians target Ohio voting machines?

Bloomberg News says 39 states were targeted, but Ohio leaders say we were not one of them.

Ohio’s top elections’ official has seen no sign of Russian hacking - or any hacking - into the state’s elections systems, according to Matt McClellan, director of communications for Secretary of State Jon Husted.

“I am not aware of any issues that we’ve had, or any incidents of Russian hacking that has occurred,” McClellan said. “We spend a lot of time in Ohio to ensure that the election system is secure in terms of cyber attacks.”

He said the state ran a smooth election in November and the state does not use a Florida elections software supplier that an online publication called The Intercept said last week may have been hacked by the Russians.

There is also no evidence that Russian hackers, or anyone else, tampered with the actual results of the election in Ohio or elsewhere. Russian meddling into the elections is being investigated by U.S. Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

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A Dayton Daily News investigation in September found that Ohio officials at both the county and state level reported no signs of attempted incursions into elections systems, such as voter registration databases, that other states experienced earlier in the year. They also saw no efforts to compromise voting systems.

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That held true in Ohio through the election, said Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials.

“Ohio election officials saw no evidence of hacking or malicious activities during the presidential election. We worked closely with the Secretary of State and Department of Homeland Security to make sure our elections were safe, accurate and tamperproof,” Ockerman said.

“Ohio has multiple measures in place to prevent hacking. Our voting machines are not connected to the internet. We have bipartisan boards of elections that review and certify the results. Our election equipment is under double lock and key and requires both Democratic and Republican keys to access the equipment.”

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Ockerman said the biggest problem on Election Day was a brief power outage in Warren County caused by a squirrel chewing through a power line.

Jan Kelly, director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections said, “We have seen no evidence of anyone trying to hack our system here at the Montgomery County Board of Elections. We have increased our vigilance and trained our staff additionally in cyber security and Security Training. We also have onsite IT staff.”

A National Security Agency document leaked last week to The Intercept indicated that a cyberattack by Russian military intelligence compromised an unnamed voting software supplier - believed to be VR Systems of Florida - and sent “spear-phishing” emails to more than 100 local election officials before the November election, according to The Intercept.

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Bloomberg News reported today that the Russian hackers struck election systems in 39 states, attempting incursions into voter databases and software systems. That is nearly twice as many states as reported previously, according to Bloomberg.

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Last summer the FBI warned states of attempted hacks into elections systems in Arizona and Illnois and a hacker’s success in getting into one computer in the elections office of Gila County, Arizona.

Voting systems - which consist of the equipment used to collect and tabulate the vote - are not ever connected to the internet and multiple levels of safeguards are in place in Ohio and elsewhere to protect the vote. Ohio and other states also use a system of election night reporting that involves using thumb drives that are connected to vote tabulation machines and then to a secure state computer just once each time results are uploaded to the secretary of state’s office.

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Elections systems - the voter registration databases, online voter registration systems and other elements not directly related to the casting and counting of votes - are considered to be more vulnerable.

Experts say more needs to be done to protect those voter registration databases from being compromised or used for fraudulent purposes on Election Day.

For security reasons McClellan declined to offer specifics of how the state is protecting voter information but said “we are constantly working and evaluating for improvements.”

Effort to hack into election and voting systems will a recurring issue that election officials will have to deal with going forward, said Merle S. King, executive director Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University.

“The Intercept leak adds to the level of anxiety of election officials across the U.S. Spear-phishing attempts are not new, but their alleged use by a foreign state against election offices is,” King said. “Election officials and IT staff must coordinate their technologies and training to protect against intrusion and compromises of their systems.”