Pressure to examine voting machines used in the 2016 election grows daily as evidence builds that Russian hacking attacks were broader and deeper than previously known. And the Department of Homeland Security has a simple response: No. DHS officials from former secretary Jeh Johnson to acting Director of Cyber Division Samuel Liles may be adamant that machines were not affected, but the agency has not in fact opened up a single voting machine since November to check. Asked about the decision, a DHS official told TPM: “In a September 2016 Intelligence Assessment, DHS and our partners determined that there was no indication that adversaries were planning cyber activity that would change the outcome of the coming US election.” According to the most recent reports, 39 states were targeted by Russian hackers, and DHS has cited–without providing details–domestic attacks in its own reports as well. “Although we continue to judge all newly available information, DHS has not fundamentally altered our prior assessments,” the department told TPM.
Computer scientists have been critical of that decision. “They have performed computer forensics on no election equipment whatsoever,” said J. Alex Halderman, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week about the vulnerability of election systems. “That would be one of the most direct ways of establishing in the equipment whether it’s been penetrated by attackers. We have not taken every step we could.”
Voting machines, especially the electronic machines still used in several states, are so insecure that an attack on them is likely to be successful, according to a report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice out Thursday morning. David Dill, a voting systems expert and professor of computer science at Stanford University quoted in the report, said hackers can easily breach election systems regardless of whether they’re able to coordinate widely enough to alter a general election result.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t try to hack voting machines and I don’t know what would stop them,” Dill told TPM. “Any statement that says ‘We haven’t see evidence of X’ also means ‘We haven’t lifted a finger to investigate.'”
DHS told TPM Wednesday afternoon it was confident in “multiple checks and redundancies in US election infrastructure” and referred to the testimony of Liles and Jeannette Manfra, DHS undersecretary for cybersecurity, who said US electoral systems were fortified by “diversity of systems, non-Internet connected voting machines, pre-election testing, and processes for media, campaign, and election officials to check, audit, and validate results.”