Russian hackers broke into the Illinois State Board of Elections last year to look at voter database files, an election official confirmed.
A contractor working for the Board of Elections detected unauthorized data leaving the network last July. The hackers gained access to the state’s voter database, which contains the names, birthdays, driver’s licenses and partial Social Security numbers of 15 million people. More than 80,000 voter records were accessed, reports the Chicago Tribune.
“We had a robust defense system in place,” Ken Menzel, general counsel for the board, told The Daily Caller, “Unfortunately, we had a programming error that left us vulnerable to attack.”
A search field on the Illinois Voter Registration System (IVRS) that typically allows voters to find out their registration status also allowed hackers to gain access to the database.
Following the discovery of the breach, the board shut down IVRS to correct the programming error and allow federal agents to investigate the incursion. They also bolstered the databases defenses, said Menzel, including upgraded complexity requirements for passwords and heavier encryption on all systems.
Investigators from the FBI discovered that the Russian hackers tried to alter or delete voter data but failed to do so. Using evidence from the Illinois voter database breach, federal agents linked the hackers to a private contractor, VR Systems, which manages electronic voter identification systems.
Menzel told Bloomberg that even if the intruders had deleted the database, officials would have been able to repopulate it using county records and that the election would likely not have been affected.
The disclosure of this cyber-attack comes as top secret National Security Agency documents detailing Russian hacks against the U.S. voting system during the 2016 election got leaked by Reality Winner, the 25-year-old federal contractor now facing charges from the Justice Department.
Unnamed officials close to this investigation told Bloomberg that the scope of the Russian cyber-attacks described in these NSA documents extends to the voting systems of 39 states, though The Daily Caller has not yet confirmed this.