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Hackers target Washington election systems

Washington's voter registration system has been targeted by cyber attackers, state elections officials have told KUOW. Secretary of State Kim Wyman said Friday afternoon the attackers appeared to be the same people who targeted Arizona earlier this year.

The Associated Press is reporting that more than 20 states have been attacked.

High-ranking Democrats on Congressional intelligence committees said last week that Russian government hackers are making a concerted effort to interfere with this year's elections.

The attempted hack on Washington state’s system took place in August and was unsuccessful, Wyman said.

“They weren’t able to get past the initial firewall, but there are other layers of security beside that,” she said.

On Monday, the state signed a contract with the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center to help protect the systems that handle voter registration and count ballots.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said 18 states had asked the Department for help fending off hackers.

Washington state officials said our state was the first to ask DHS for this type of help.

Wyman told KUOW that, following the attacks against Arizona, Washington state officials dug through their computer logs. They discovered that the attempt to bypass the state's firewall had come from the same Internet addresses as the Arizona attack.

Security measures for Washington’s election systems include the physical – like biometric locks on the rooms where votes are counted – and the virtual – like not connecting counties’ ballot tabulation systems to the Internet. Security experts consider the latter practice, known as an air gap, a crucial step in defending highly valuable systems.

Wyman said state and county officials have been taking cybersecurity seriously for years. She said that DHS officials are already on the ground in Washington State, and that they’re making training and support available to the state's 39 counties, which are responsible for counting ballots.

“Every county in the state is taking this as seriously as we are and really wants to protect our voting system,” Wyman said.

Pierce County election officials told KUOW this week they had never audited their network’s air gap to confirm that the gap was working.

After KUOW’s inquiry, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said an independent third-party audit of their network’s air gap would be conducted by early next week.