HARTFORD, CT – Connecticut was one of 21 states targeted by hackers in 2016, and while no information was taken from its online voter registration system, the state received $5.1 million in new federal funds to beef up its security.
News of the new funding was announced Friday at a Legislative Office Building press conference with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
“These new federal funds will help secure the safety and integrity of critical voting infrastructure—and help to preserve public faith in our most fundamental of democratic institutions,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal described Russia’s interference with the 2016 election as “informational warfare.” He said it was part of a continuing attack on democracy.
Blumenthal stated that Russia’s aggressive attack involved cyber, propaganda, and disinformation targeted to sell discourse.
DHS confirmed the attempted Russian intrusion into Connecticut’s online voter registration database last September, but Merrill said it was stopped by the website’s security system.
The online voter registration database is the state’s front-facing website application for voter registration. It’s not attached to the centralized voter database or to the vote tabulators in the polling places. The information put into the system from an outside user would still have to be verified by the Registrar of Voters in a specific town before a name could be added to the voter list.
Merrill said she was told by DHS officials “there will be more activity” in the 2018 mid-term elections.
In response to the ongoing threat, Merrill formed a cyber security task force that will begin meeting this month to bring together state, federal, and local officials to initiate communication to establish protocols that address the “well-funded systematic effort to disenfranchise American people.”
The $5.1 million federal grant will be used to strengthen Connecticut’s voting infrastructure.
“We are not just talking about physical machines, we are talking about software that can protect our democracy,” Blumenthal said.
Merrill said Connecticut is at the forefront of national efforts to harden its defenses.
“We are rated very highly and everything we are doing are best practices – we have audits, paper ballots, and so some of the problems you are seeing in other states you do not have here in Connecticut. Nonetheless, we must be vigilant,” Merrill said.
In order to receive the federal funds the state will have to spend $256,000, which is already approved as part of its budget.
Connecticut’s system is already pretty secure because voting occurs on paper ballots on machines that are not hooked up to the Internet. There is a centralized voter registration database, but each municipality maintains their own voters lists and it would be difficult to manipulate that database without social engineering.
An NBC News report from February found that “election websites, voter registration systems and voter look-up systems,” were allegedly compromised in seven states. However, when the news organization reached out to those seven states, six of them denied they were breached, based on their own cyber investigations.