Harry Reid wants deeper FBI probe into possibility of Russian election hack

Russia hacking the vote?

With fewer than 70 days to go until Election Day, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is asking the FBI to look more closely into the possibility that Russia may try to manipulate the presidential election.

In a letter to FBI Director James Comey, Sen. Reid (D-Nev.) wrote that the threat “is more extensive than is widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results.”

FBI investigates hacked voting databases

The warning comes amidst a wave of security breaches targeting U.S. political organizations. 

In July, U.S. officials said they believed individuals working for the Russian government were behind the hack of internal emails at the Democratic National Committee. The leaked emails, revealing some DNC staffers’ explicit bias toward Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, exacerbated divisions within the party directly before the Democratic National Convention. In that same month, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump invited Russia to track down Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from her tenure as secretary of state.

In the latest scare, hackers recently accessed Arizona and Illinois’ state election databases, leading the FBI to issue a warning telling state election officials nationwide to boost security, CBS News confirmed.

The hacks in Arizona and Illinois reportedly targeted voter registration information - specifically, names, addresses, and perhaps partial social security numbers. 

The FBI suspects Russians orchestrated the attack, according to a report in The Washington Post.

Though not necessarily top secret, the targeted data is powerful when bundled together, CNET editor Dan Ackerman told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday — not to mention the profound effect even a low-level breach has on voter perception.

FBI help wanted: Calling all data scientists

“It serves to kind of muddy the water and make you feel that the people running your election at the local level are not fully on top their game,” Ackerman said.

Federal officials are working to protect against the next level of attack: a hack that not only retrieves voters’ data but tampers with it.

Ackerman described what that hack might look like on Election Day.

“If you show that you can get in there and get access and basically download that registration information and take it away, the next step is — can you change it, can you mess around with it?” Ackerman said. “When you go to vote and your name is suddenly not on the roll, is it because you forgot to re-register your new address, is it an honest mistake, or did someone go and delete your entry?”

Then, there are worse fears: that hackers could alter results on Election Day.

Though there’s been zero evidence of tampered voting machines in any U.S. election, the recent breaches add “uncertainty onto uncertainty,” Ackerman said. 

“It shows you when you have state-run elections and everyone has their own IT department, their own equipment, their own hardware, their own software, their own security practices, which they may or may not keep up with properly, you have a lot of points of weakness in the system,” he warned.

Ackerman said that, in addition to targeting vulnerable voting machines, hackers could target the individual emails and passwords of local officials who have access to voting systems. 

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