Utah’s government systems face “hundreds of millions” of attacks each day from hackers in Russia, China and elsewhere, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said Tuesday. And those attacks are likely to intensify ahead of November’s election, Cox said, as a result of past criticisms of Russia by Mitt Romney, the state’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. “We knew that alone might make us more of a target,” Cox said of Romney’s candidacy. Cox, who oversees elections in Utah, was confident the state’s government websites and voting systems can withstand the attacks. Millions of dollars have gone into updating Utah’s voting machines and cybersecurity protocols, he said, and the transition to a statewide vote-by-mail process decreases the likelihood of fraudulent votes on a mass scale. “We have a paper trail for every vote that is cast in the state,” he said.
During his 2012 presidential campaign, Romney described Russia — and by extension Russian President Vladimir Putin — as the nation’s primary geopolitical foe. The comment was divisive at the time but took on new relevance during the 2016 presidential election, when the nation, according to the intelligence services, faced a choreographed disinformation and disruption campaign by Russian agents.
Russian-linked social media accounts have reportedly amplified anti-Romney sentiments, and attacks on Utah state systems have risen to as high as 1 billion in a single day, correlating with Romney’s nomination by the Utah Republican Party and his campaign for Senate.