Warner to DHS: 'We have to do better' on notifying states of Russian hack attacks

Warner to DHS: 'We have to do better' on notifying states of Russian hack attacks
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerKey House Dem's objections stall intel bill as deadline looms Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless MORE (D-Va.) on Friday ripped the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) delay in alerting 21 states on Russian attempts to hack their election systems before the 2016 election, saying, "We have to do better."

“It's unacceptable that it took almost a year after the election to notify states that their elections systems were targeted, but I'm relieved that DHS has acted upon our numerous requests and is finally informing the top elections officials in all 21 affected states that Russian hackers tried to breach their systems in the run up to the 2016 election," Warner said in a statement on Friday. 

“We have to do better in the future. Our elections are the bedrock of our democracy, and DHS needs to notify states and localities in real-time when their systems are targeted," he continued.

"While I understand that DHS detects thousands of attempted cyber attacks daily, I expect the top election officials of each state to be made aware of all such attempted intrusions, successful or not, so that they can strengthen their defenses -- just as any homeowner would expect the alarm company to inform them of all break-in attempts, even if the burglar doesn't actually get inside the house."

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Warner serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is probing ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia during the 2016 election.

DHS said Friday that in the majority of states it notified, the department only discovered preparations for hacking, like scanning to find potential modes for attack. 

"[R]ecognizing that state and local officials should be kept informed about cybersecurity risks to election infrastructure, we are working with them to refine our processes for sharing this information while protecting the integrity of investigations and the confidentiality of system owners," DHS Spokesman Scott McConnell said in a written statement to The Hill.

"As part of our ongoing information sharing efforts, today DHS notified the Secretary of State or another chief election officer in each state of any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election. We will continue to keep this information confidential and defer to each state whether it wishes to make it public or not," he later added. 

While the DHS did not reveal the states that were notified, Wisconsin announced they were notified. 

Illinois and Arizona announced before the election that voter roles connected to the internet had been hacked by Russia, while Alabama, California, Colorado and Florida confirmed to The Hill they had been targeted.

Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia and Washington told The Associated Press they had been targeted as well.