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Russian Hackers Targeted Washington, Oregon Election Systems In 2016

Russian hackers attempted to penetrate Washington and Oregon’s voter registration systems last year. Top elections officials in both states received that confirmation Friday from the Department of Homeland Security.

“That is unnerving,” said Erich Ebel, a spokesman for Washington’s Secretary of State.

According to Ebel, Washington was one of 21 states that were targeted in the months before the 2016 election. The attacks were first reported a year ago by the Associated Press. That’s when election officials in states like Washington started noticing attempted intrusions from Russian IP addresses.

Ebel said Washington election officials reported those hacking attempts to the FBI and Homeland Security.

“In exchange they also provided information to us,” Ebel said. “They gave us IP addresses of Russian hackers that they knew to be out there and looking to gain access to our systems so we were able to successfully block those even before they tried to get into our system.” 

Ebel said the attempts to hack the state’s voter registration system were unsuccessful. However, a recent study by Harvard researchers warned that state voter databases were vulnerable during the 2016 election. 

Ebel said the state employs extensive security measures to protect Washington’s voter rolls from tampering. That includes monitoring for repeated attempts from the same IP address to access the system. They also watch for unusual changes made to voter registrations.

Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman has previously said she’s confident the state’s election system is “safe, secure and accurate.”

Oregon’s Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson, also confirmed Friday that Russian hackers attempted to access his office’s computer network during the 2016 general election, but were unsuccessful.

In a statement, Richardson said his office wards off millions of attempts from around the world to access its network.

“The fact that DHS confirmed that we had no Russian intrusions is a testament to the strength of the network security program we have in place,” the statement read.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is currently investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election and potential ties to the Trump campaign.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."