No ‘specific or credible’ cyber threats affected integrity of midterms, CISA says
Despite “a handful” of DDoS attacks targeting state and local election websites and some technical glitches affecting voting equipment, CISA says it saw “no activity” that should undermine faith in the results of the midterm elections.
Although there were some isolated cyberattacks targeting state and local election websites during the 2022 midterms, a senior official with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency told reporters during a series of press calls on Tuesday that they observed “no specific or credible threat to disrupt election infrastructure or Election Day operations.”
“We’ve seen no activity that should cause anyone to question the security, integrity or resilience of our election infrastructure,” the senior CISA official added.
Ahead of the recent midterms, CISA worked closely with state and local jurisdictions to help officials successfully detect and deter cyber threats, as well as to better respond to threats of violence made against election officials. 14 states also activated their National Guard cybersecurity teams to help secure voting-related systems from digital intrusion.
These cybersecurity efforts proved largely successful this election, as CISA said it was only “checking a handful” of jurisdictions that reportedly experienced distributed denial-of-service—or DDoS—attacks, which attempt to disrupt access to websites and servers by overwhelming them with manipulated online traffic, often through the use of bots or a network of hijacked computers.
In Mississippi, the secretary of state’s website, which serves as a digital resource for election-related information and is not involved in vote tabulations, was temporarily inaccessible after experiencing “an abnormally large increase in traffic volume due to DDoS activity,” the office said in a statement.
“We want to be extremely clear and reassure Mississippians our election system is secure and has not been compromised,” the secretary of state’s office added.
A Russian hacking group—which previously announced its intention to target political websites on Election Day—took responsibility for the attack in a Telegram post, although the senior CISA official said that “we’ve not seen any evidence to suggest that these are part of a widespread coordinated campaign.”
Earlier in the day, the Champaign County Clerk’s Office in Illinois also reported connectivity issues and outages that it said in a Facebook post were likely due “to cyberattacks on the network and servers.”
CISA said, however, that these limited cyberattacks did not impact the electoral process.
"It's critical to remember that even a successful DDoS attack does not affect a user's ability to cast a ballot or have it counted," the senior CISA official said, noting that the majority of affected websites it was aware of were quickly brought back online.
Ahead of the midterms, federal officials and security researchers also expressed concerns about the impact of mis- and disinformation on the electoral process. A report released on Monday by cybersecurity firm Recorded Future’s Insikt Group found that falsehoods about voting machines—many of which spread on social media in the wake of the 2020 presidential election—were re-emerging in the days leading up to the midterms, and were likely to increase following the elections.
While some jurisdictions experienced relatively minor technical issues with their voting machines and systems on Election Day, some election deniers and conspiracy theorists were quick to highlight the problems as unfounded examples of electoral hijinks.
In Maricopa County, Arizona, the state’s most populous county, officials reported that vote-counting machines at 60 voting locations were unable to accept completed ballots as a result of a printing malfunction. County election officials said the glitch was not causing voting tabulators to misread ballots, and that they were using a “secure ballot box” to store completed ballots while the necessary fixes were made.
Given Arizona’s status as a key midterm battleground state, with key Senate and gubernatorial races still undecided, some Republican lawmakers and right-wing figures seized on the problem to spread baseless fraud claims and misinformation about long wait times to vote in the key county. The senior CISA official, however, said that there was “no evidence of malicious activity or any malfeasance,” and added that “it is a technical issue, and they have resolved it.”
“When you have 8,800 individual election jurisdictions, you’re going to see a few issues arise,” the CISA official added. “We’ve seen a few of these today, as happens on every Election Day. None of this is out of the ordinary, and it’s really important that we all work to not make the normal out to be nefarious.”