Wisconsin elections chair apologizes over security concerns

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — It was "not acceptable" for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to take nearly a year to notify Wisconsin that its voter registration system had been targeted by Russian hackers, the chairman of the state Elections Commission said Tuesday.

The commission was discussing the failed Russian hacking attempt and steps that could be taken to bolster cyber security in Wisconsin. State elections officials had long said Wisconsin was not a target of Russian hackers, but Homeland Security told Wisconsin on Friday it was one of 21 states that "Russian government cyber actors" had unsuccessfully tried to infiltrate during the 2016 elections.

"It should never be a situation where this commission learns three days ago about something that occurred in October," Wisconsin Elections Commission Chairman Mark Thomsen said. "That delay in accountability is not acceptable and with that I apologize."

Thomsen said had the state "asked more questions we would have or should have known" about the attempted security breaches. Wisconsin's top elections official, Michael Haas, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee at a June hearing that Wisconsin concluded it was not a target because Homeland Security had not notified it of any hacking attempt.

But on Friday, Homeland Security told the Elections Commission that the Russians scanned the state's internet-connected election infrastructure, likely seeking specific vulnerabilities such as access to voter registration databases. The hacking attempt last year focused on the state's voter registration database, not voting results that are collected and counted by more than 1,850 local election clerks.

Wisconsin was one of several political battleground states, along with Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and Virginia that were targeted by the Russians, according to Homeland Security.

The commission was to discuss the attempted security breach, and ways to increase cyber safety, in detail later at its Tuesday meeting. It has already established a team that is working on a new plan to improve security before the 2018 elections.

Security enhancements being considered include encrypting the entire voter registration database to protect the information and make it unusable to anyone who may be able to steal it and requiring two-factor authentication for the roughly 3,000 local and state officials who have access to the WisVote system.

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