Virginia election officials say your vote is safe from hackers

Updated: Sep. 21, 2020 at 3:49 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - So far so good: Virginia Election officials tell us they have not seen any attempts to hack into its databases before the 2020 election. That’s unlike what happened four years ago when they say hackers were looking for weaknesses in Virginia’s election websites.

It’s no secret Russian hackers with the Kremlin’s military intelligence unit targeted Virginia’s election infrastructure in 2016. In fact, it’s all detailed in this Senate Intelligence committee report with at least 21 states targeted.

“The best metaphor that we’ve come up with is it’s like a burglar comes to your house and jingles the door handle and maybe rattles the windows a little bit. Couldn’t find a way in, moves on to the next house,” said Virginia Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper. He says the hackers couldn’t find a way into the system.

In the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, Virginia election officials said it was an FBI alert that tipped them off. Reporting, that it seemed the hackers “were cataloging holes to come back later.”

Piper says it’s not possible for votes to be changed. He points out how three years ago Virginia ordered all remaining touch screen electronic voting machines to be taken out of service.

You now fill out a paper ballot and slide it into a scanner.

“None of our voting equipment, the scanners that you put your ballots through, none of those are ever connected to the internet. so there’s no chance for those to be hacked from an outside source,” says Piper.

The only thing connected to the internet is the voter rolls. (Also known as the list of registered voters. And Piper says they’ve added new layers of defense online. There’s now two-factor authentication security for voter registrars from 133 counties and cities to access the lists.

That’s just like when you go to log onto a website, and it sends a passcode to your phone before it allows you in.

And they do regular tests of the system: to look for vulnerabilities. They’ve also prepared technology to recognize when a hacker is in the system, so it shuts down and brings the website back online with little damage.

“I mean we can protect all days against fires and sometimes fires happen and we just need to be prepared to get back up and running without a blip in the radar,” said Piper.

And Piper points out if there’s ever any concern about the actual results and the way their displaying on Virginia’s election website? There’s always a paper trail. Those paper ballots to count or recount.

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