Federal Government Issues Advisory On Russian Hackers' Election Interference
TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:
Russian state-backed hackers are targeting U.S. state and local governments in the run-up to next month's election. That comes from a warning issued by the federal government this afternoon. And it also comes less than a day after the intelligence community said Iranian-backed hackers were behind threatening emails sent to voters in several states. We're joined now by NPR correspondent Pam Fessler, who covers election security.
And, Pam, what else can you tell us about this warning from the federal government?
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Well, there's still a lot we don't know. But what we do know is that the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, released this advisory. And they said that a Russian state-sponsored actor had targeted dozens of state and local government and aviation networks, and that they successfully compromised some of those networks and stole data from at least two of them.
They also said that the Russian actor has been obtaining user and administrator credentials, so that gives them the ability to maneuver once they're inside these networks. And they said in at least one case, the actor was able to access documents related to printing access badges and resetting passwords. Right - at this point, they said that there's no indication that this hacker has disrupted any government operations, but they said that, quote, "the actor may be seeking access to obtain future disruption options." And, of course, you know, we're only less than two weeks out from the election, so this is, you know, obviously of great concern.
FESSLER: But at, you know, at this point, the agency said that there's no sign that any election information has been compromised.
MOSLEY: OK. Pam, you know, it's hard to ignore the timing of this warning. Tens of millions of Americans have already cast ballots. And the intelligence community already made that announcement I mentioned about Iran last night. Do we know what sort of impact this could have on the election?
FESSLER: Well, I think that the intelligence and election officials, they're going to try to be very careful about, you know, first, letting Americans know what's going on, but without scaring them or undermining confidence in the election. And one of the biggest fears is that, you know, Russia or some other foreign actor could cause a lot of damage just by making it look like they have access to election information and that they might be able to manipulate votes, even if they don't have the ability to do so.
And that might be what's going on here, an effort by, you know, the Russians to say, look, we can shake up the system if we want to. And I think what intelligence and election officials will be saying in response in the coming days is, you know, trying to assure the public that, you know, we have protections in place and we're on top of this. We know, you know, what's going on.
MOSLEY: You've been covering elections for years. What have local election officials been doing to shore up their system since Russia made those efforts to hack several states back in 2016?
FESSLER: That's right. I mean, things are so much different now. I mean, there is much, much more communication between the federal officials, intelligence officials and all these state local election officials before - who in 2016, really had no clue what was going on. They've done a lot to beef up security, as I say.
And really, you know, voting systems themselves and the actual vote and elections are really quite secure. It's all these sort of systems around the voting systems, and it's things like websites that might announce the results that they're worried that those are the things that might be manipulated on Election Day and that would cause more confusion. It wouldn't change votes. It wouldn't change the results, but it might cause confusion and undermine confidence.
MOSLEY: That's NPR's Pam Fessler, who covers election security.
Thank you so much for this update, Pam.
FESSLER: OK, thanks a lot.
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