Russian hackers did not penetrate the election machines or computer software of Omaha-based Election Systems & Software during the 2016 election season, a company executive told The World-Herald on Tuesday.
“When information started to come out about the possibility for bad nation-state actors ... the FBI did reach out to us,” said Kathy Rogers, senior vice president for government affairs with Election Systems, also known as ES&S, which supplies voting systems for many U.S. elections.
“We worked with the FBI to double-check and verify that no such bad actors had penetrated our systems,” Rogers said.
Last week, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that a grand jury indicted 12 Russian government intelligence officers on charges of hacking into U.S. election-related computer systems in 2016. Among the allegations are that they hacked into the computers of a company that supplied software to verify voter registration information. Rosenstein didn’t identify the company that is said to have been hacked.
“I can tell you that it wasn’t us,” Election Systems’ Rogers said in an interview.
Rosenstein said the indictments don’t allege that the hacking altered the vote count or changed any election results. The Russians are charged with identity theft, conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to commit computer crimes, directed largely at Democratic Party offices.
In the interview, Rogers said the Department of Homeland Security told ES&S that it has “zero information that ES&S was at all penetrated.” She said ES&S’s equipment is not connected to the Internet, so hackers can’t make their way into systems that count votes.
That doesn’t mean hackers don’t try, she said.
“It’s nothing new for the bad guys to jiggle the door” to test security systems, Rogers said. “That’s been occurring with any network system as long as there’s been the Internet. But we didn’t have anybody who managed to penetrate.
“And it’s not just the Russians. They’re from all over the place.”
ES&S sells voting machines, computer software for voter registration and vote tabulation and related services to counties and other election agencies, most of them supervised by states’ secretaries of state. By one estimate, ES&S systems process 60 percent of U.S. election votes.
Rogers, recently named vice chair of a national elections industry group under the Department of Homeland Security, attended a meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State last week in Philadelphia, held at the same time the indictments were announced.
At the meeting, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that although the Russian hacking did not change any votes, “any attempt to interfere in our elections — successful or unsuccessful — is a direct attack on our democracy.”
Separately on Tuesday, Motherboard, a technology-related news website, cited a letter from ES&S to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., saying the company had provided some election customers with software from 2000 to ’06 that allowed remote connections. The story said the letter contradicted an earlier statement by ES&S that it had not sold systems with remote-access software.
Wyden told Motherboard that having remote-access software on election equipment “is the worst decision for security short of leaving ballot boxes on a Moscow street corner.”
In a statement, ES&S said that its voting machines have no remote access capability and that it has never had such software on its vote tabulation devices. The software in question was for “technical support purposes on county workstations,” ES&S said, and it stopped the practice when new election security guidelines took effect in 2007. No customers are using that software now, the company said.
Election Systems, founded in Omaha in 1979, is the largest U.S. maker of voting machines out of a half a dozen national suppliers. It has more than 4,500 election customers in 42 states and employs about 450 people, about 200 of them in Omaha.
The private company is majority owned by McCarthy Capital, an Omaha investment firm. The World-Herald was a part owner of Election Systems until 2011.