SALEM, Ore. — The Russian government tried but failed to access the Oregon Secretary of State’s computer network during the 2016 election, officials said Friday.
Oregon learned about the attempt in a brief phone call from an official from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to Election Director Steve Trout, Debra Royal, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, told The Associated Press.
“Today, Oregon received confirmation from the Department of Homeland Security that Oregon’s security measures thwarted Russian government attempts to access the Secretary of State computer network during the 2016 general election,” Richardson said in a statement . The secretary of state is Oregon’s top election official.
Richardson credited “the strength of the network security program we have in place” to preventing a Russian intrusion.
However, three weeks after the election in November, the secretary of state’s office released an audit sharply criticizing inadequate security of state agencies’ computer programs and data. That audit, carried out under Richardson’s predecessor, Jeanne P. Atkins, said the weaknesses increased the risk of a cyber attack. The weaknesses put individuals’ private information at risk, including income tax data, Social Security numbers, driver license information and medical records, the audit said.
The Employment Department’s computer system was hacked in November 2014. The secretary of state’s own website was hacked the same year.
But the audit described no election vulnerability.
In Oregon, voting is done by paper ballots that are mailed in or inserted into secured drop-off boxes. Results are counted on computers that are not connected to the internet. These methods could complicate hacking attempts.
Chief Information Security Officer Lisa Vasa was quoted in Richardson’s news release as saying “We block upwards of 14 million attempts to access our network every day. These attempts come from all over the world, including Russia, with the largest number from the U.S.”
The federal government on Friday told election officials in 20 other states that hackers targeted their systems last year, although in most cases the systems were not breached.
The disclosure to the states comes as a special counsel probes whether there was any coordination during the 2016 presidential campaign between Russia and associates of President Donald Trump, who has called the Russia story a hoax.