Illinois is the only state to admit the Russians got into their voter registration system during the 2016 presidential election. Although the 2018 midterm elections are just months away, the state is still working on fully implementing a cyber navigator program meant to detect and defend against cyber breaches.
Illinois Works to Protect Voters Ahead of 2018 Midterm Elections
LESTER HOLT, anchor:
With only two months until the midterm elections, we wanted to know how prepared the states are after the interference of the Russians in the 2016 election. We asked our senior investigative correspondent, Cynthia McFadden to go to Illinois, the only state to confirm the Russians got to their voter registration system to see what they’re doing to protect your vote.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, reporting:
If Springfield, Illinois, the home of Abraham Lincoln, seems an unlikely place to be considered the frontline of Russian cyber-attacks, this featureless building in a strip mall seems even less so. How worried are you about the security of the midterm election here in Illinois?
STEVE SANDVOSS: I’m concerned. Okay.
MCFADDEN: Steve Sandvoss, the executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections was at the helm when his team discovered Russia had hacked into their voter registration database in 2016.
SANDVOSS: We determined that approximately 76,000 voter records were actually accessed. And these are active voters.
MCFADDEN: So what information would that consist of? Address?
SANDVOSS: Address, date of birth, party affiliation.
MCFADDEN: Partial social security numbers, too?
SANDVOSS: In some cases the last four digits of the social security numbers were included.
MCFADDEN: The fear that the Russian’s ability to access such information could cause chaos at the polls or elsewhere. NBC News reported in February that top secret intelligence requested by President Obama in his last weeks in office identified seven states including Illinois where there was substantial evidence of compromise by the Russians. How soon before you realized it was the Russians behind it?
SANDVOSS: The FBI never confirmed to us then it was the Russians. The--
MCFADDEN: Still, as we sit here today?
SANDVOSS: It’s considered an ongoing investigation.
MCFADDEN: Please, think about it, the state of Illinois versus the Russian government.
SANDVOSS: Not a fair fight, no.
MCFADDEN: Tonight, the question, will the Russians be back before the critical midterms? IT Director Matt Emmons takes us into the highly secure server room here in Springfield. He says cooperation between Illinois and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security has improved greatly since 2016. How ready are you going to be to guarantee the security of the Illinois election system come the mid-terms?
MATT EMMONS: Nobody in this job would ever give you a 100% guarantee about anything. But I will tell you, we’re in a much better position now than we were in 2016.
MCFADDEN: That said, the state is still far away from fully implementing a cyber-navigator program meant to detect and defend against cyber breaches. The staff and all 10,000 Illinois precincts need to be trained in a new Department of Homeland Security multi-state information sharing program. Is everybody signed on to that?
SANDVOSS: Right now, no.
MCFADDEN: What percent?
SANDVOSS: Probably about 25%.
MCFADDEN: Will you have 100% by the election, by the midterm?
SANDVOSS: Well, that’s our goal. I don’t know at this point if we’ll have that.
MCFADDEN: You better get moving. With only 63 days to go. Now, even though the Russians accessed those 76,000 voter registration records, there is no evidence any votes were changed. Nevertheless, the fact that they successfully targeted the system is a warning to all say intelligence experts that the Russians may be coming back.
HOLT: And Illinois is on guard.
HOLT: All right. Cynthia, thanks very much. Good to see you.
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