Report: Leaked Document Shows Russia Tried to Hack the Voting System Directly

June 6th 2017

Ethan Simon

According to a new report released by The Intercept, Russian hacking into the 2016 election went further than originally thought. Rather than simply hacking the DNC, it turns out Russia also attempted to hack the United States voting infrastructure directly.


The news comes as there is increased scrutiny on Russia and the U.S. 2016 election.

With ousted FBI Director James Comey set to testify openly before the Senate Intelligence Committee this Thursday, interest in Russia's involvement in the 2016 election is already at a fever pitch. But the bombshell report adds a new dimension to any discussion of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Released Monday afternoon, the story hinges on a leaked NSA document, sent anonymously to The Intercept, and independently verified. CBS News also confirmed the document's veracity. Officials requested that The Intercept not release the document, but The Intercept decided to go ahead with the story, agreeing to some redactions of material that "was not clearly in the public interest."

So what did Russia do, according to this report?

The leaked document reveals that rather than simply trying to influence the election outcome, Russian hackers tried to hack the voting system itself. According to the report from The Intercept:

The NSA has now learned, however, that Russian government hackers, part of a team with a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,” focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls.

The intelligence stands in opposition to Vladimir Putin's claim that "patriotic hackers"—and not state-sponsored operatives—attempted to hack the U.S. election.


How did they do it?

In the days leading up to November 8, Russian hackers attempted to compromise more than 100 local government officials, and VR Systems, a private voting software company, in a massive spear-phishing attempt. Hackers first used a fake Google sign-in page to accumulate information from employees at VR Systems. According to CBS, "The NSA found that there were seven 'potential victims' at the unnamed company and at least one person's account was likely compromised."

VR Systems released the following statement:

“When a customer alerted us to an obviously fraudulent email purporting to come from VR Systems, we immediately notified all our customers and advised them not to click on the attachment. We are only aware of a handful of our customers who actually received the fraudulent email and of those, we have no indication that any of them clicked on the attachment or were compromised as a result.

“Phishing and spear-phishing are not uncommon in our society. We regularly participate in cyber alliances with state officials and members of the law enforcement community in an effort to address these types of threats. We have policies and procedures in effect to protect our customers and our company.

“It is also important to note that none of our products perform the function of ballot marking, or tabulation of marked ballots.”

Hackers then sent malware to 122 local election officials, hidden in Microsoft word documents, that would have given them total access to the infected computers. According to Slate, "the infiltration of VR Systems' network and voting officials' computers, the piece explains, could have allowed hackers to alter or delete voter registration information in such a way as to strategically create delays and chaos at specific polling locations."


Did this affect the election? It's hard to say.

"It is unknown whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised the intended victims, and what potential data could have been accessed by the cyber actor," the NSA's report says. A U.S. intelligence who spoke to The Intercept, "cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive."

Changing votes in an election is not the only concern. NPR reports that hackers "could undermine confidence in the voting system by causing enough confusion at the polls to raise doubts about the results."

The Department of Justice has arrested the alleged leaker.

Within hours of the report's publication, the Department of Justice charged Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old government contractor, with leaking classified material to an online news outlet. A federal official confirmed to BuzzFeed that the news outlet in questions was, in fact, The Intercept. It is a crime to leak classified information. The Obama administration pursued "nine to 10" prosecutions of leakers, according to the New York Times.

It's worth noting that Trump routinely decries "leakers" on Twitter and in person.



[H/T The Intercept]