RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
House Speaker Paul Ryan has called every member of the House of Representatives to an important meeting next week on election security. Top intelligence and law enforcement officials will brief Congress on the risks and threats to this year's midterm elections. Local election websites are particularly under threat, and one of them was breached this month on election day in Tennessee. NPR's Miles Parks has more.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Officials in Knox County, Tenn., knew their county primary would get more attention than normal. Here's Chris Davis, the county's assistant administrator of elections.
CHRIS DAVIS: One of the candidates in this election who actually ended up winning the Republican primary for county mayor was a gentleman by the name of Glenn Jacobs, who - I'm not sure if NPR listeners are pro wrestling aficionados. Maybe, maybe not, but - was a pro wrestler by the name of Kane.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Get down. Get down.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's Kane. Kane is back.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The Big Red Machine is here.
PARKS: But right as election results started coming in, an incident even scarier than Cain's tombstone piledriver took officials and voters by surprise.
DAVE BALL: Around 8 o'clock, we suddenly started experiencing a very high load of traffic.
PARKS: That's Dave Ball, the deputy IT director for Knox County.
BALL: Shortly thereafter, the Web server hit as much capacity as it could take, and it went down.
PARKS: The website, which was supposed to be showing election results, stayed down for about an hour. The server wasn't connected to the system that records or counts votes, but it's the way many voters learn about the outcome. The Senate Intelligence Committee says six states had their election websites attacked by Russian operatives in 2016. Doug Jones is an election cybersecurity expert at the University of Iowa. He says local election websites are more vulnerable to attacks than, say, a voting machine because the sites are connected to the Internet.
DOUG JONES: The diversity, the huge number of counties, means it's expensive to do a broad attack because there are so many of them. But it also means it's really unlikely that there isn't some vulnerable county out there. And the first thing an attacker would do would be to start probing all the county election offices and finding the ones that are weak.
PARKS: Knox County took care of the vulnerability that the attackers exploited, and, again, the website was only down for an hour. No votes were in any way affected. But Chris Davis says it's just as much about a voter's confidence in the entire election system.
DAVIS: It's from a public perception standpoint as much as anything. We want to make sure that all of this data is secure, and if somebody logs on to our website to look at something that they can trust that that information is correct.
PARKS: He said county officials will be extra alert heading into this year's midterm elections. Tennessee may have a competitive Senate race this year.
DAVIS: Something happens in Nebraska, it's like, OK. That's one thing. But if it happens in your backyard, it's, well, this can happen. Well, you know, if this can happen in little old Knox County, Tenn., it can happen anywhere.
PARKS: On August 2, voters in Knox County will go to the polls again to decide whether Glenn Jacobs, Kane, will be their next mayor. Miles Parks, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.