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La Salle County voting system sound

Illinois moves forward after 2016 data breach

The Illinois Board of Elections has put security measures in place after hackers accessed 76,000 voter records in a 2016 security breach, including more than 2,000 in La Salle County.
The Illinois Board of Elections has put security measures in place after hackers accessed 76,000 voter records in a 2016 security breach, including more than 2,000 in La Salle County.

A 2016 voter data breach in Illinois recently received attention on CBS' "60 Minutes" and Fox News.

Illinois is the only state to publicly acknowledge hackers penetrated its voter registration system and accessed 76,000 active voter registration records. No records were altered or deleted, but the incident caused the state to question its election infrastructure ahead of the November 2018 election.

In La Salle County, 2,226 of roughly 70,000 registered voters' records were breached, according to the Illinois Board of Elections. Each of them were notified of the intrusion with a letter.

County Clerk JoAnn Carretto said the hack occurred at the state level. The state uploads information from counties that goes into a voter registration system.

Illinois Board of Elections Director Steve Sandvoss told "60 Minutes" the attack was random in nature.

"There was no rhyme or reason to it," he said, of whether Republicans or Democrats, or certain geographic areas, were targeted more than others.

State staffers said they discovered the attack when its system was slowed down by a barrage of digital hits. Hackers scooped up bits of records through this process.

After identifying the problem, the Illinois Board of Elections has since taken a number of steps to beef up its security.

"They've made several changes," Carretto said.

One example she noticed immediately was having to change to a more complicated password to access the state's system.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has performed weekly "hygiene scans" to detect potential vulnerabilities in Illinois' system, and none have been identified since 2016.

According to a recent Associated Press report, Congress approved $380 million to upgrade equipment nationwide as part of its effort to prevent a repeat of 2016, when the Department of Homeland Security determined hackers tried to breach election systems in 21 states.

Illinois would get more than $13 million from the congressional plan, provided it puts up a 5 percent match. The State Board of Elections said it is adding $600,000 to its budget request for the spending year that begins July 1.

Compounding the fiscal problem is the approximately $4 million a year in grant funds for voter-registration system security that wasn't available from the state elections board for two years because of a state budget stalemate.

Despite financial challenges, Carretto said La Salle County is in good shape.

The county uses an optical scan machine to register votes. She said memory cards, flash drives and internal modems are used on Election Day to ensure voting information can't be compromised online.

Since actual voting is kept offline, officials don't believe hackers were looking to change the tally.

Instead, election officials' biggest concern is keeping hackers from altering registration information, former cybersecurity official Michael Daniel told "60 Minutes."

"What seemed likely to us was causing chaos at the polls on Election Day," Daniel said. "If you intrude into a voter registration database and change two digits of everybody's address, so that their voter ID doesn't match what's in the voter rolls when they show up at the polls."

He said those stories can spread and election lines could build, causing citizens to question the system.

The Board of Elections also has taken these measures:

• Scheduled a “Risk and Vulnerability Assessment” with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the most stringent cybersecurity analysis the agency offers.

• Participation in numerous groups and associations dedicated to sharing cybersecurity intel and analysis.

• Working with state and federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

• Partnering with the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology for cybersecurity services.

• Purchased specialized hardware to further protect from attacks.

Security breach by the numbers (by county):
Woodford: 8,540
Grundy: 8,018
La Salle: 2,226
Marshall: 438
Livingston: 102
Kendall: 88
Bureau: 44
DeKalb: 34
Lee: 17
Putnam: 11

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