DHS report: Hackers could meddle with election results reporting

Elements of America’s election infrastructure potentially are vulnerable to hacking and other cyber-intrusions that could impact the ability of voters to cast ballots on Election Day or manipulate unofficial election night data, according to a Department of Homeland Security report obtained by FoxNews.com.

"We assess multiple elements of US election infrastructure are potentially vulnerable to cyber intrusions. The risk to US computer-enabled election systems varies from county to county between types of devices used, and among processes used by polling stations," states the Sept. 20 intelligence assessment.

"Targeted intrusions against individual voter registration databases, however, are possible. Additionally, with illicit access, manipulation of voter data, or disruptions to their availability, may impact a voter’s ability to vote on Election Day."

The report also warned the public dissemination of unofficial voting results potentially could be manipulated by hackers.

The DHS report, titled “Cyber Threats and Vulnerabilities to US Election Infrastructure,” explained that some states have started “migrating to the cloud” with systems that report election results to the general public and media.

The report said: “Vulnerabilities in the public-facing Internet portion could be used to display inaccurate vote results to the public and media. Election Day results are not the official results of the state or local jurisdiction."

At the same time, the report stressed that an “intrusion into vote tabulation systems would likely be contained to the manipulation of unofficial Election Night reporting results, which would not impact the certified outcome of an election.” But this “could undermine public confidence in the results.”

Other election infrastructure vulnerabilities and concerns were outlined in the “Official Use Only” report, including:

  • Cyber criminals and hackers are likely to continue to target voter registration personally identifiable information data.
  • Electronic voting systems are vulnerable to compromise. DHS assesses the election outcome would only be impacted if a compromise happened on a large scale across multiple machines or jurisdictions, which officials judged beyond the capability of any adversary. (DHS did not respond to FoxNews.com questions on measures to prevent or respond to potential voting system compromises.)

Kay Stimson, spokeswoman for the National Association of Secretaries of State, told FoxNews.com they are taking “every precaution and using all resources” to address potential issues on Election Day including results-reporting.

"At this point there are no reports of critical or specific threats reported by our federal partners and no issues reported up from state or local level,” she said, without commenting specifically on the DHS warning.

The DHS report voiced confidence that malicious activity could be detected.

"In addition, local election officials, media organizations, and political campaigns carefully monitor local voting patterns, particularly in electorally significant jurisdictions, and are likely to detect and begin investigating potential anomalies quickly,” the report said. Multiple redundancies make it likely that cyber manipulation by a nation state intended to impact the election outcome would be "nearly impossible to avoid detection."

The report, which outlines cyber risk and offers guidance to operators of U.S. election systems, was designed to assist state and local governments in "protecting, preventing, mitigating and responding to cyber incidents against US election infrastructure" – at a time of heightened cyber-alert.

Unknown cyber actors in mid-July used an open-source scanning tool to identify and exploit a vulnerability and extract personally identifiable information data from a Midwestern state board of elections website, according to FBI sources with access and information provided by a cybersecurity organization supporting states. In at least three other states, voting and non-voting related websites during the same period observed unsuccessful attacks of a similar nature from unknown actors, according to the same reporting.

According to sources and public statements by DHS officials, various additional DHS resources also have been deployed to election polling and other locations in the run-up to the election and will monitor results on Election Day.