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Alleged Russian Hack Reveals a Deeply Flawed Election System

Security experts have long contended that the highly decentralized, often ramshackle U.S. election system is its own best defense against trickery or sabotage. New evidence from a leaked intelligence document suggests that foreign adversaries are exploring ways to attack it anyway.

The document, purportedly produced by the U.S. National Security Agency, outlines alleged attempts by Russian military intelligence to hack into state and local election systems — the latest evidence of a broad and sophisticated foreign attack on the integrity of U.S. elections. It does not indicate whether actual vote-tampering occurred.

The NSA report adds significant new detail to previous U.S. intelligence assessments that alleged Russia-backed hackers had compromised elements of America’s electoral machinery. It also suggests that attackers may also have been laying groundwork for future subversive activity.


Electoral Risk

The operation described in the document could have given attackers “a foothold into the IT systems of elections offices around the country that they could use to infect machines and launch a vote-stealing attack,” said J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan computer scientist. “We don’t have evidence that that happened,” he said, “but that’s a very real possibility.”

Computer scientists have proven in the lab that once sophisticated attackers are inside an election network, they could manipulate pre-election programming of its systems and alter results without leaving a trace.

Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said Tuesday that hacking into state voting systems ahead of the Nov. 8 vote was more widespread than has been disclosed.

Attempts by Russia to “break into a number of our state voting processes” was “broad-based,” he said, without offering details. In Moscow, a Kremlin spokesman categorically denied Tuesday that Moscow had tried to hack the U.S. elections.

Warner did not directly address the classified intelligence report published Monday by The Intercept, an online…

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