[Image via dhs.gov]
A new report by the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security finds that fears of a DHS “hack” into the State of Georgia’s computer networks in the run-up to last year’s election were unfounded and were the result of a routine procedure. AJC.com has more:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general has completed a report indicating there was no malicious intent last year when Secretary of State Brian Kemp alleged the federal agency may have tried to hack into the Georgia’s voter registration system.
The finding came after Georgia U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and Utah U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested an independent review of the incident.
Hice and Chaffetz, who will be leaving Congress on Friday, made the request after Kemp said the agency had not been completely forthcoming about what happened.
The dispute appears to have stemmed from some ongoing work by a DHS contractor:
Kemp said in December that security scans had found several attempted intrusions that the state’s cybersecurity experts flagged as suspicious. Homeland Security officials at the time said a federal contractor based in Georgia used an agency computer to do routine background checks of job applicants.
The incident occurred at a time of heightened security concerns about the nation’s patchwork of election systems, as Homeland Security officials warned of hackers possibly targeting voter registration systems in more than 20 states before the presidential election. State officials as recently as this month said Georgia was not among states affected by those attempts.
The report comes against the background of the ongoing debate over the federal government’s role in election security:
Kemp has been at odds with Homeland Security over other issues, including then-Secretary Jeh Johnson’s decision earlier this year to designate U.S. election systems as critical infrastructure.
Kemp said in a statement Monday that he is satisfied with the review and the inspector general’s finding.
“Earlier today, I personally spoke with current DHS Secretary John Kelly and learned that the investigation is now complete,” Kemp said. “DHS did not knowingly attempt to breach Georgia’s firewall or hack our systems. Federal officials were able to re-create the event, and they have promised to provide a detailed report for my review.
“While I am disappointed that it took a new administration to investigate this highly important incident, I am pleased to learn this information and relieved that our federal government is not trying to interfere with elections in our state or others involved in this situation,” Kemp said.
While the IG report doesn’t put the dispute over critical infrastructure – or the spectre of partisanship on these and other issues – to rest, it does serve as a reminder that election security is an incredibly complex matter. The array of threats again the nation’s election system continue to evolve, but it appears even relatively harmless actions can leave digital footprints that take time and effort to investigate and resolve. In this environment, ongoing calls by EAC Chair Matt Masterson and others for greater intergovernmental cooperation on election security are vital.
Stay alert – and stay tuned …