MTPR

Russian Hackers Probed Montana's Election System In 2016

Jul 27, 2018

Secretary of State Corey Stapleton says Montana’s election system was probed by Russia during the 2016 election cycle.

Stapleton’s acknowledgement comes after a member of his staff told the Associated Press that Montana was not among the 21 states targeted by hackers in 2016.

Stapleton wrote in a newsletter sent out early this morning that while no votes were changed in the 2016 election there was, "a clear and significant threat to our nation's ability to conduct fair elections."

Stapleton says he received more information about the probe of the state’s election system during a meeting with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen, two weeks ago.

"And she fleshed out for me and a lot of the other secretaries of state, more information, which was she said they assumed Russia’s campaign targeted all 50 states. But in the vast majority of cases only preparatory activity such as scanning or research was observed," Stapleton says.

Scanning, in this case, means Montana's and other election systems around the country were searched for vulnerabilities by a possible hacker looking to exploit any weaknesses.

Stapleton says Montana’s election system was not hacked or breached, but it’s election system perimeter was tested.

“I also see it as we were not singled out from the other 50 states,” he says.

According to the prepared remarks of Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen during a meeting with secretaries of state on July 16 Nielsen said, "What we did see ... is without a question concerning: Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure."

And, "In an exceptionally small number of cases, actors were able to access the system."

Stapleton says in preparation for the 2018 election, the state is partnering with the National Guard to run stress tests on the elections system to make sure it is secure. The secretary of state also says the office is working with counties on security protocols and investing in new Information Technology system and hardware.

Stapleton says he was first briefed that Montana had been unsuccessfully probed by a foreign entity when he first took leadership of the secretary of state office in early 2017. 

He says the probe has been discussed in internal meetings with legislators and county election officials. He could not point to a specific time when the secretary of state’s office first publicly announced the information. Stapleton says the information hasn’t been withheld, it just hasn’t been reported by the press.