Wisconsin/Russia Voter Hacking - So what DID happen?

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Published
September 24, 2017
Voting

On Friday Homeland Security notified the Wisconsin Elections Commission that a Russian entity attempted to hack the Wisconsin voter registration system during the 2016 election. Although DHS announced in July that 21 states had been subject to attempted attacks, it was assumed that Wisconsin was not one of those states, since the Elections Commission had not been notified specifically. It turns out that DHS has been very quiet about details. At this point we don't really know anything except  that there was some scanning activity of the SVRS system by some Russian actor.

This could mean almost anything. Sites are scanned all the time. I support some sites where the primary source of traffic to the site is suspicious scanning activity. I'm not very sure that the little information that is available about this is actually useful. Indeed it would be surprising if state voter and elections sites had not been scanned by the Russians (or by anyone else, for that matter).

The workings of Homeland Security are often hard to understand. We don't know what information they have, though it may be important to our foundations as a democracy. Or not. We don't know why they waited for so long to notify the individual states, including Wisconsin, that they were being scanned (though they did send out notices to officials of potential hacking, and some signatures for scanning, they never made it at all clear how imminent this danger was or why). We also only have their word that they believe that these scanning patterns were unsuccessful at actually breaking in (and indeed, how can they determine much just from outside access to the networks involved?).

My main concern here is that I could understand them remaining silent. I can understand them coming out and being fully transparent. But this business of calling out hacking activity with no further information only serves to make the public and politicians uneasy.  Malaise seems to be the watchword of the year, but there's no need for the government to willingly contribute to the unease of the state governments and the citizenry while not releasing enough information to be useful.

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