A new report suggests unauthorized users tried to get access into South Carolina’s voter registration system nearly 150,000 times last Election Day.
The Wall Street Journal used data submitted by the State Election Commission to state legislators in April. In answer to lawmakers’ questions, the agency said it blocked more than 149,800 attempts on November 8 to penetrate the firewall of its statewide voter registration system. While the number jumped on Election Day, the same report noted the system is constantly being attacked, including more than 113,000 blocked attempts on December 13 and more than 44,700 blocks on April 11. The report only listed the incidents on the second Tuesday of each month from November 2016-April 2017.
Election Commission Director Marci Andino has emphasized there is no evidence the system itself was ever compromised, but not from a lack of effort by hackers. Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire noted the totals include any blocked attempt to access the database and not all were blocked hacks (for example, an authorized user could have mistyped the wrong password). The report only focused on the state’s list of registered voter data and the hacks mentioned in the report did not target election results.
“We could be very secure today, but the bad actors are constantly looking for ways to breach the security,” she told members of a House Oversight subcommittee in April. “So it’s something where we have to be ever vigilant.”
The Wall Street Journal report said most of the hacking attempts likely came from automated computer bots (Editor’s note: WSJ article is behind a paywall).
Election cybersecurity has come under public scrutiny admit reports last year that voter databases in Arizona and Illinois had been targeted by foreign hackers. Some reports suggest Russian hackers got into Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee systems last year (although it’s not clear the state systems and DNC hack were done by the same group).
Andino told lawmakers the Department of Homeland Security is continuing to prioritize the state databases. She said the agency’s weekly scans have helped reduce the State Election Commission’s vulnerabilities from 67 down to zero. The state National Guard also used its cyber-security team to check each county’s system.
“We are much more secure today than we were a year ago,” she said. “And we are doing everything within our power, we’re taking all reasonable measures, to make sure we stay as secure as possible.”
She said a “two-factor authentication” process is required to access South Carolina’s voter registration system, which is housed on the internet for the benefit of each county. She said only American servers can access the database.