Klobuchar, Wyden demand answers from FBI on 2016 election hacking incidents

Klobuchar, Wyden demand answers from FBI on 2016 election hacking incidents
© Greg Nash

Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE (D-Minn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (D-Ore.) are demanding answers from the FBI on its response to Russia attempting to hack voting machine company VR Systems during the 2016 presidential election.

The incident was revealed in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony Kellyanne Conway: 'I'd like to know' if Mueller read his own report MORE’s report, which said Russia in August 2016 targeted employees of “a voting technology company that developed software used by numerous U.S. counties to manage voter rolls, and installed malware on the company network.”

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The company wasn’t mentioned in the report, but VR Systems has since been confirmed as the targeted company.

In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday, Klobuchar and Wyden asked the FBI what steps it took after VR Systems alerted the FBI in August 2016 that it had found suspicious IP addresses on its systems.

“VR Systems indicates they did not know that these IP addresses were part of a larger pattern until 2017, which suggests that the FBI may not have followed up with VR Systems in 2016 about the nature of the threat they faced,” the senators wrote.

During the 2016 elections, several VR Systems voting machines failed in Durham County in North Carolina, leading to some voters being turned away from the polls.

The senators questioned the FBI on whether it had investigated those machines for attempted hacking, and also how the FBI is ensuring that local and state election officials “feel comfortable reporting potential cybersecurity incidents” to authorities. The Department of Homeland Security agreed last week to conduct an investigation of voting equipment in Durham County.

Klobuchar and Wyden gave Wray until July 12 to respond to their questions.

A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment on the letter, while VR Systems did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

VR Systems did issue a statement following the release of the Mueller report that said it’s “number one priority” was ensuring “the integrity of the elections process.”

Wyden wrote to VR Systems last month asking about the potential hacking incidents in 2016. VR Systems responded to Wyden’s questions about the failed North Carolina machines by saying they offered to pay for a forensic investigation of the systems, but that the county decided to “quarantine the machines to do their own analysis.” VR Systems added that they did not believe the analysis has taken place yet.

Both Klobuchar and Wyden have been heavily involved in election security efforts over the past few years, with Klobuchar sponsoring legislation to bolster the cybersecurity of election systems and to make it more difficult for foreign actors to pay for political advertisements on social media platforms.

Wyden recently introduced a bill along with 12 other senators that would mandate the use of paper ballots and risk-limiting audits in all federal elections.