Even as Americans begin voting in the earliest 2018 midterm primaries, the public still doesn’t have solid answers about what happened to its election systems in 2016. Instead it has conflicting accounts and official denials. The latest example this week came from the Department of Homeland Security, which slammed a report by NBC News that said the intelligence community had evidence in early 2017 to believe Russian operatives compromised more state voter systems in 2016 than previously known. DHS said NBC’s story was “factually inaccurate and misleading” and stood by its previous assessment, that just one state, Illinois, had its system breached. NBC then slammed that response in a subsequent defense of its story, which quoted a former cyber-expert from the Obama administration, Michael Daniel, who said that when he was in the White House, it believed seven states had been compromised. What’s the real story? How serious were the Russian cyberattacks across the United States?
“We simply don’t have enough information unfortunately because nobody is going past these one-line statements that are obscure or obtuse [at best],” said Mark Nunnikhoven, a vice president at the cybersecurity company Trend Micro.
In a written statement to NPR, Daniel declined to specify the number of states he believed had their systems compromised. He did, however, seem to offer a justification for why intelligence that officials had in early 2017 could have pointed to a different conclusion than DHS officials are drawing now.
“Since [January 2017], there have been numerous factual developments resulting from the various ongoing investigations related to Russian election interference,” Daniel said. “The most important consideration is that the threat to electoral systems remains, and we need to continue to improve the security of such systems.”