The FBI says that computer hackers accessed, and in one case stole, voter registration files in two states, potentially compromising personal information and putting crucial election data at risk just three months before voters head to the polls. And if that weren’t unsettling enough, the techniques that the hackers used were neither sophisticated nor particularly hard to employ, proving that it’s not just high-end hackers from foreign governments, like the ones believed to be targeting U.S. political organizations, that elections officials need to worry about in the runup to November. “I don’t think anyone can assume that these vulnerabilities would be unique to these states,” Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit group that advocates transparency and security in U.S. elections, told The Daily Beast. “This is a time when assuming is not the best thing to do.”
The FBI’s analysis of the hacks, contained in a security alert first reported by Yahoo News, shows that Arizona’s elections website was penetrated in June using a common vulnerability that’s well known to security experts. Then, in July, Illinois’ voter files were accessed apparently using stolen login credentials, which could have been obtained by spear phishing a state employee. (The FBI didn’t identify the victims by name in the alert, but experts familiar with the cases pointed out that they match reported hacks in Arizona and Illinois, where officials have acknowledged the intrusions.)
On the scale of hacker sophistication, these attacks rank on the low-end, relative child’s play for the kinds of skilled operators that U.S. officials suspect may have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Democrat and Republican lawmakers in an attempt to sow chaos in the presidential elections. There’s no hard evidence yet that the same crew, believed to be working for the Russian government, was at work in the states. But the hacks underscore that these states and others present easy targets. Experts predicted that Arizona and Illinois won’t turn out to be the only victims.