'Possible' More Counties Than Now Known Were Hacked In 2016, Fla. Officials Say The disclosure this week that two Florida counties were breached by Russian attackers in 2016 has officials worried about what more they don't know.

'Possible' More Counties Than Now Known Were Hacked In 2016, Fla. Delegation Says

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/723996207/724921474" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Russian cyberattacks compromised the voting systems of two counties in Florida in 2016. But the state's members of Congress didn't learn which counties until late last week during a closed-door briefing by the FBI. Now lawmakers are frustrated that it took so long for them to find out. NPR's Miles Parks covers election security. He's in studio this morning. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So we have been talking about interference in the 2016 election for so long. There have been so many investigations. Why are we learning about these cyberattacks now?

PARKS: So law enforcement says it's to protect the sources and methods that it used to gather information about the attacks. As for the counties that were actually attacked, we have to think back to 2016. And they may have been worried about confidence had they disclosed the breaches publicly right before this very polarized election. Now, though, it's been three years. And the lawmakers, the election officials I've talked to seem to think that secrecy is doing more harm than good. Here's Lori Edwards. She's the election supervisor in Polk County, Fla.

LORI EDWARDS: I just honestly cannot make sense of why people are trying to keep a secret from three years ago. And as a matter of fact, I think they're making it worse by doing so. It's kind of like a noise in the dark. It's a lot worse than if you can see what really happened.

PARKS: So this is someone who is trying to prep for the 2020 election. She's in charge of half a million voters in Florida - in the same state where these hacks occurred. And she doesn't have information. This kind of gets back to this idea that there hasn't been an exhaustive, all-inclusive public report about what happened in terms of Russian interference in 2016. We thought the Mueller report - special counsel Robert Mueller's report might be that source of information. But it's clear there's more - there was more that we still have yet to learn.

KING: Including in Florida, where there's - these hackers did something. Do we know what they did? Did they change anyone's vote?

PARKS: No. So lawmakers and election officials have been very clear - there is no evidence any votes were affected by this. They were able - the hackers were able to breach registration systems, which are not connected to the systems that actually count and tally votes. They were able to break into the systems. They could've changed information about the level of access they gained. But there's no evidence that they did so. The Washington Post reports that one of the counties that was breached was Washington County, a small county in Northern Florida. Still unclear on what the second county was. What's also unclear is what we still don't know. I pressed the lawmakers last week about whether they thought it was possible that other counties in the United States saw similar breaches in 2016. They said it is possible and that we still may not know about other breaches.

KING: Wow. So that information may come forward. I mean, you talked about the importance of having confidence in the election in 2020 - not a small deal. What is Congress doing? What are states doing to stop this from happening again categorically?

PARKS: So Congress allocated almost $400 million last year to the states to improve election security. That's probably it from the money front. There's probably not going to be an influx of cash from the federal level to improve other levels of hardware. The biggest thing, though, and what's really interesting is that the thing the federal government has really touted as improved looking ahead to 2020 as opposed to 2016 is communication - that they're sharing information about threats from the local level to the state level, all the way up to the federal level. But here we see there is a lot of work still left to be done on the communication front, especially when it comes to letting the public know about breaches, so they can have confidence that if something has gone wrong in an election they voted in, they're going to know about it. And they're not going to know about it three years later.

KING: Likely to be a very big story as we head into 2020. NPR's Miles Parks is covering it. Miles, thanks so much.

PARKS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.