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Russia And State Voting Systems


The indictment announced Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller says Russian cyber hackers also targeted voter registration systems. And Illinois announced that it was very likely one of the states hacked by the Russians. Joining us now is Steve Sandvoss, executive director of the Illinois Board of Elections. Welcome to the program.

STEVE SANDVOSS: Happy to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what happened to Illinois voting records in 2016?

SANDVOSS: Well, we were the victim of a malicious cyberattack. It occurred in the summer of 2016. It began as a subtle intrusion that we initially did not detect because it was so small. And then it - two weeks later - three weeks later, rather - the volume of the attack increased to the point where it caused a disruption in the performance of our statewide voter registration database. And we discovered, after shutting the system down, that it had captured data on voter registration records of Illinois voters somewhere in the range of 76,000.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So those are names, addresses, date of birth, driver's license numbers.

SANDVOSS: Well, they were pieces of records for the most part. And we put together what they had captured. And if there was enough information associated with a particular voter, then we contacted that voter. We're required to do that by law.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As far as you know, was the election itself compromised, though?

SANDVOSS: No. We have no reason to believe that the election itself was compromised either in Illinois or anywhere else. In our case, it was limited to the statewide voter registration database, which is separate and apart from the actual conduct of the election on Election Day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's still a big deal, obviously, though. What did you learn? And what are you trying to do differently in 2018?

SANDVOSS: Well, I think we're certainly more prepared than we were back in 2016. I think what this did is alerted our agency, as well as election officials across the country, of the dangers and the vulnerabilities that their systems may have with respect to a cyber breach. So I think it's a lesson learned. And I think cybersecurity is something that everybody is taking very seriously, as they should, and are taking steps to prevent future attacks. Many election jurisdictions are in the same position as those in Illinois - with limited funds and a massive problem with respect to maintaining cybersecurity. No system of any type can be completely impregnable. So you're facing those odds to begin with.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you getting the help you need? I mean, obviously, states fund this. Should the federal government step in to help? I mean, are they taking it seriously enough? And what is it that you're asking for?

SANDVOSS: Well, I think they're taking it seriously. We've received assistance from the Department of Homeland Security. With respect to funding, Congress recently appropriated approximately $380 million to the states. Illinois received about $13.2 million. It's a start, but we feel that cybersecurity is going to be an ongoing thing. So we're hoping that more funds will be forthcoming in the years ahead.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Steve Sandvoss, executive director of the Illinois Board of Elections, thank you very much.

SANDVOSS: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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