Hackers target state voting machines, but with no success

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JACKSON – Between April 23 and May 23, there were about 3,000 unsuccessful attempts to hack into Mississippi’s elections data system.

But that is not unusual, Secretary of State Debert Hosemann said. Such attempts are ongoing, though, he said hacking efforts increased slightly — by about 1,000 per month — during the 2016 elections.

He said the efforts to access information stored in Mississippi’s statewide Elections Management System come from all over the world.

“They only have to be successful once,” Hosemann said. “I have to be successful 3,000 times per month.”

The efforts to hack into the system, Hosemann said, are most likely to try to obtain personal information, such as the last four digits of the Social Security numbers of Mississippi’s registered voters for possible financial gain, not to alter election results.

The voting machines are not online so it would literally take someone stealing the machine to alter results. The state’s 82 counties are responsible for gathering and counting their own election results.

“Nobody can get into our system except the people who work here,” said Forrest County Circuit Clerk Gwen Wilks, explaining that the system is not online.

The certified results from each of the 82 counties are sent to the Secretary of State’s office within 10 days of the election.

Hosemann said it also would be difficult to hack into the state system and alter voter registration lists. The voter registration information is online because it is constantly changing and being updated.

In the coming months, the counties can apply for a portion of $4.5 million in federal funds to purchase new voting machines or make other updates to their election systems.

The grants will be awarded through the Secretary of State’s office based on the number of registered voters in the county.

The Secretary of State’s office received authority from the Legislature to use $224,000 in existing funds to draw down the federal funds and will use those matching funds, as well as possibly a small amount of federal funds, to update its cybersecurity.

The Secretary of State’s office hopes to award all the grants to the counties this summer.