Russian hackers accessed voter databases in two Florida counties prior to the 2016 presidential elections, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, following a briefing with the FBI earlier today.
According to DeSantis, the hackers were able to access the databases by sending spearfishing emails to county employees. These links contained malware that, once opened, gave the Russian military intelligence unit GRU access to voter registration information.
The names of the affected counties were not formally announced, but DeSantis said that the election officials and employees from those counties have been notified.
The New York Times reported late last month that these malicious emails were sent to 120 elections email accounts across the state of Florida shortly after the release of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. The report previously confirmed that at least one county had been subjected to the GRU’s hacking campaign.
According to the report from Mueller, “these cyber actors were in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data.” Today, however, DeSantis said that the hackers did not manipulate any of the data or election results.
Even though individual votes were not affected or altered, US intelligence officials have become increasingly concerned with elections security over the past two years. At a Council on Foreign Relations event last month, FBI director Christopher Wray said that the 2018 midterm elections were simply a “dress rehearsal for the big show” of the 2020 presidential elections when it comes security. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have sought to provide legislative solutions to Russian elections meddling.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is one of the lawmakers at the forefront of the effort. Last week, he penned a letter to the CEO of VR Systems, an elections technology company that operates in Florida counties, probing them on whether they are prepared for the upcoming presidential election. Wyden has been an outspoken advocate for the use of paper ballots across the country, introducing a bill last fall that would require them along with post-election audits.