Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he learned from the FBI that two counties were breached by Russian hackers in the 2016 election, according to CNN. This confirms information included in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that suggested “at least one” county had been successfully attacked.
After a briefing by the FBI last week, DeSantis said in a statement Tuesday that two counties “experienced intrusion into the supervisor of elections network.” He said no data had been altered and that the hack “had no effect” on the vote totals. We don’t know which two counties were hacked.
In a statement, the FBI said it had given DeSantis information “involving the attempted intrusion into Supervisor of Elections networks throughout the state.”
“The FBI also provided assurance that investigators did not detect any adversary activity that impacted vote counts or disrupted electoral processes during the 2016 or 2018 elections,” the statement said. “The FBI and DHS continues to work with elections officials and our local, state and federal partners to proactively share information in a concerted effort to protect elections networks in Florida, and across the country, from adversary activity.”
The FBI is scheduled to brief Florida members of Congress about the hacks on Thursday.
The two counties were likely penetrated via a spearphishing attack, in which emails were created by Russian military intelligence to specifically target elections officials. The emails would have tricked officials into entering their passwords.
We first learned that a Florida county had been breached by hackers in the redacted version of the Mueller report released last month.
“[T]he FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government,” the report read.
According to DeSantis, after his FBI briefing, he had to sign a nondisclosure agreement saying he wouldn’t name the counties that were hacked. This is a little weird, as DeSantis himself was recently complaining that the government would not release the names of the counties that were hacked.
“I think they think that if we name the counties, then that may reveal information to the perpetrators that we know kind of what they did,” DeSantis said according to the New York Times.
Local officials are not happy about the secrecy.
“This is not acceptable, to keep secret attacks on the most public of our political processes: our elections,” Ion Sancho, the former elections supervisor of Leon County, told the Times.
Sancho previously broke a confidentiality request from the FBI after the agency spoke to local elections officials on a phone call.
“I’m not a member of a law enforcement agency—I’m a member of the elections profession,” Sancho told the Times. “I did talk about it, because it seemed to me we needed that kind of impetus if we’re going to prepare and ensure we’re going to protect our election system, which we still have not done.”
The U.S. intelligence community maintains that they will be able to protect elections from foreign interference in the future.
“I do want to assure you that the US intelligence community is well postured to counter Russia, China, Iran or anyone else who is trying to exert influence over the American people and our election process,” Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, told Purdue University on Tuesday.
“As Director of National Intelligence, I have pushed for and received enhanced authorities to empower the intelligence community to respond to cyberattacks and foreign influence campaigns,” he added.