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FBI alert sparks fears that state voting systems are under digital assault

The FBI’s decision to issue a nationwide alert about the possible hacking of state election offices after breaches in Illinois and Arizona is raising concerns that a nationwide attack could be afoot, with the potential for creating havoc on Election Day.

It’s possible that the motivation behind the two state hacks was less about the political system and more about cash. Voter registration data sets include valuable information — such as names, birth dates, phone numbers and physical and email addresses — that criminal hackers can bundle and flip on the black-market “dark web” for thousands of dollars.

But some cyber experts said the FBI’s alert, first revealed by Yahoo News on Monday, could be a sign that investigators are worried that foreign actors are attempting a wide-scale digital onslaught.

A former lead agent in the FBI’s Cyber Division said the hackers’ use of a particular attack tool and the level of the FBI’s alert “more than likely means nation-state attackers.” The alert was coded “Amber,” designating messages with sensitive information that “should not be widely distributed and should not be made public,” the ex-official said.

One person who works with state election officials called the FBI’s memo “completely unprecedented.”

“There’s never been an alert like that before that we know of,” said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive intergovernmental conversations.

 

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