A hacker gained unauthorized access in 2016 to the server that hosts Alaska’s public elections website, according to documents released by Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. The documents, obtained by the Anchorage Daily News through a public records request, outline an incident that drew the attention of federal law enforcement but had not been publicly revealed by Alaska election officials. The documents show that Alaska’s elections, like other states’ around the country, face threats from hackers seeking to undermine American democratic institutions. But technology experts both inside and outside state government said that no damage was done — and that the attack actually highlights the resilience of Alaska’s multi-layered cyber-defenses.
“I’m surprised elections officials haven’t been more proactive in telling this story,” said Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology, who reviewed the documents at the ADN’s request. He added: “It could have been a lot worse for Alaska.”
An earlier incident involving Alaska’s elections system was made public in September, when state officials said an election-related server was scanned by Russian cyber-actors. In that case, the state said that the event, which it learned about roughly a month before Election Day, did not amount to a security breach.
But elections officials never not disclosed an apparently unrelated, successful intrusion into the website-hosting server on Election Day. They now say the attack had no effect on the integrity of Alaska’s election or the counting of votes.