SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal officials reversed course this week on their assertion Russian hackers tried to infiltrate California’s state elections systems.
But Russian hackers did try to worm into a network run by the California Department of Technology.
They were unsuccessful, department spokesman Bryce Brown said Wednesday.
The fresh information comes after the U.S. Homeland Security Department told California and 20 other states last week that cyber attackers from the Russian government targeted their systems “seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.” The department walked that back Tuesday in California and Wisconsin, prompting confusion among state officials already frustrated by the federal government’s delay in sharing information about the 2016 election.
In California’s case, the hackers’ scan actually targeted a state-managed network that functions similarly to an internet service provider for local governments.
The scan occurred last summer and was stopped as part of the Department of Technology’s routine cybersecurity detection systems. The department was unaware the scan by Russians occurred until federal officials said so this week, Brown said.
“Although we did not have knowledge of the source until now, we have confirmed our security systems worked as planned and the activity was blocked as it happened in 2016,” Brown said in a statement. “We continue to monitor this situation and work with federal partners to ensure that the state’s data, networks and systems remain secure.”
In both California and Wisconsin, the hackers could’ve been aiming for election systems even though they targeted other departments. Scott McConnell, a Homeland Security spokesman, said “discussions of specific IP addresses do not provide a complete picture of potential targeting activity.”
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla criticized the federal government for not providing timely and accurate information on the attempted Russian meddling. But he said Californians should feel confident that the state’s election systems were not briefed.
“California voters can further rest assured that the California Secretary of State elections infrastructure and websites were not hacked or breached by Russian cyber actors,” he said.