Maryland elections board says it detected 'suspicious activity' last fall

Maryland's State Board of Elections detected "suspicious activity" on the computer system it uses for online voter registration before last fall's election and called in cybersecurity experts to evaluate it, administrator Linda H. Lamone said Wednesday.

Lamone's disclosure came in response to an inquiry by The Baltimore Sun amid reports that Russian cyberattacks had breached election systems in 39 states.

Lamone said the system was not penetrated. She said the activity did not compromise vote tabulation.

"Because of our strong security protocols, the system was not breached," Lamone said. "However, as an extra security precaution we had cybersecurity experts investigate the system and no intrusion was detected."

Lamone said Maryland election officials shared the information about the activity with the Department of Homeland Security. She said Maryland's experts did not determine the origin of the apparent attempted breach. Nor has the state heard back from Homeland Security about who might have made the attempt, Lamone added.

The system that was the apparent target of the attempt is one on which voters can sign on to register to vote, update personal information and request absentee ballots. They said it is entirely separate from the state's voter registration database, which is not connected to the internet.

Maryland's actual vote tabulations are conducted by local election officials in Baltimore and the counties. Elections officials say those systems are not online either.

Lamone said the online registration system is monitored constantly. She said any changes made online are verified by local board employees.

Bloomberg News reported this week that Russian efforts to hack into the U.S. electoral system extended to twice as many states as previously reported. Bloomberg cited "three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter" as saying Russian hackers tried to penetrate systems in 39 states. The news organization did not name the states.

A Homeland Security spokesman said the department could not go beyond what the state has said. It would not say whether it considered Maryland as having been hacked.

In Illinois, Bloomberg reported, investigators found that intruders tried to alter or delete voter information. In one state, Bloomberg reported, the hackers gained access to a campaign finance database.

Suspected Russian interference in the 2016 election, along with possible connections to the campaign of President Donald Trump, has become the focus of a widening investigation by a special counsel named by the Justice Department.

A Homeland Security official said the department and its partners were aware aware of "state and non-state actors" attempting to penetrate the U.S. election infrastructure last year.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the election systems' safeguards made it likely any such attempts would be detected. He said the department had not altered a September 2016 intelligence assessment that said U.S. adversaries were not planning an attack that would alter the results of the election.

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

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