Russian hacking attempts grabbed headlines this week, but they weren’t the Wisconsin elections agency’s first cyber attack with an international flavor. For a day in August 2011, an older version of the state’s elections website and several other state sites were knocked out of commission by a cyber vandal. The elections site had its homepage plastered with the phrase “hacked by sovalye” — a phrase that appeared to refer to the Turkish word for “knight.” Since then, the state government as a whole has gotten more serious about protecting itself from internet attacks — efforts that may have paid off last year amid Russian attempts to influence, or undermine confidence in, the November elections.
“Hacking was not taken as seriously as it is now,” retired state elections head Kevin Kennedy said of the shifting in thinking over the past decade. “There’s been a real focus on security protections.”
But despite the progress, election officials and outside experts say more could be done to ensure the state voter database and local voting machines are protected.
In a reminder of the stakes, the federal Department of Homeland Security told Wisconsin officials last week that this state was one of 21 around the nation targeted by “Russian government cyber actors.”