Russian hackers likely probed election systems in all 50 states during to the 2016 U.S. presidential race, the Obama administration’s former cyber czar said Wednesday — more the double the number previously given by the Department of Homeland Security.
Michael Daniel, the White House cybersecurity coordinator from 2012 to 2017, made the remark while appearing on Capitol Hill during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing involving Russian interference in the race.
“We have received from the Department of Homeland Security inconsistent and varying numbers on the number of states whose systems were scanned by the Russians,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican. “How likely do you think it is that Russian cyber actors at least scanned all 50 states?”
“I think it is highly likely,” responded Mr. Daniel, who was the Obama administration’s top cyber policy official at the time of the election.
Mr. Daniel said he believed that “there was no reason why they wouldn’t have at least attempted recognizance against all 50,” adding: “It was more likely that we hadn’t detected it than it didn’t occur.”
The Russian government waged an attack against the 2016 election that used state-sponsored hackers and other operatives to disrupt the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the U.S. intelligence community concluded near the end of the Obama administration in January 2017.
Four months later, the DHS under President Trump said that Russian hackers had eyed state election systems as well.
“We determined that internet-connected election-related networks in 21 states were potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors,” Samuel Liles, acting director of the cyber division for the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last June. “It is important to note that none of these systems were involved in vote tallying.”
Two months ago, meanwhile, the top cyber official at DHS said that more than 21 states were likely probed.
“The 21 states references the visibility that we had, whether that was the intelligence community or the sensors, of Russian targeting of state infrastructure related to elections,” Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at DHS, said at an April 24 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.
“I think we can assume that the majority of the states were probably a target,” Ms. Manfra added.
Addressing Russia’s operations Wednesday, Mr. Daniel said that “understanding what happened in 2016 is really critical to protecting ourselves in future elections.”
“Maintaining state and local control of elections is very important, but it’s not realistic to expect them on their own to go up against nation-state actors,” he added.
Russia has denied meddling in the 2016 race. Moscow’s alleged interference remains under investigation in the House, Senate and Department of Justice.
The Trump administration eliminated the role of cybersecurity coordinator earlier this year.