Russia didn't target Wisconsin voting systems, DHS says in reversal

In a reversal of a statement made last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that Russian-backed hackers did not target Wisconsin’s voter registration data prior to November's U.S. presidential election.

Instead, the hackers targeted data from Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development, the DHS said.

The revised statement, presented in an email to the state’s deputy elections administrator, was dislcosed to reporters at a Wisconsin Elections Commission meeting Tuesday.

“Based on our external analysis, the WI [Wisconsin] IP address affected belongs to the WI Department of Workforce Development, not the Elections Commission,” said the email from Juan Figueroa, with Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection.

However, Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell didn’t waver from the department’s original stance. He said in a statement that 21 states were affected as Russian-backed hackers were “seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.”

Individual states, not the DHS, would decide whether to disclose the full details of the DHS findings, McConnell said.

Mark Thomsen, chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, was not pleased by the DHS reversal.

“Either they were right on Friday and this is a cover-up," Thomsen said, "or they were wrong on Friday and we deserve an apology.”

Michael Haas, Wisconsin’s chief elections administrator, said the DHS never informed state officials prior to the Nov. 8 presidential election "that Russian government actors were targeting election systems.” Wisconsin’s chief information officer, David Cagigal, echoed the assertion.

Cagigal added that the state’s systems "were protected" and there were "no incidences.”

Two IP addresses that DHS flagged in October were blocked and “were related to non-election systems,” according to Herb Thompson, Wisconsin's deputy information officer.

The state's Elections Commission is working to boost security against cyberattacks ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections. Those efforts include encrypting the entire voter registration database and requiring two-factor authentication for those authorized to access the WisVote system, officials said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.