Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Michigan voter data published on Russian dark web forum

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2020 at 2:42 PM

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A news story making the rounds on Tuesday says that information on nearly all of Michigan's voters has been posted on a Russian dark web forum, renewing fears that the 2020 election could be "hacked."

The news was first shared by the Russian newspaper Kommersant. According to an English article on the Russian website Meduza, a user named "Gorka9" shared personal data of 7.6 million of the Michigan's 7.8 million voters on a Russian dark web forum, as well as the information of another million voters in Arkansas, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Florida. The information included full names, date of birth, sex, date of registration, home address, zip code, email address, voter ID number, and polling station number.

As the story went viral, Michigan's Secretary of State took to Twitter to tell people not to worry.

"Public voter information in Michigan and elsewhere is accessible to anyone through a FOIA request," the department wrote on Twitter. "Our system has not been hacked. We encourage all Michigan voters to be wary of attempts to 'hack' their minds, however, by questioning the sources of information and advertisements they encounter and seeking out trusted sources, including their local election clerk and our office."

Even though the information is freely available, Russian hackers appeared to have found a way to profit off of it by scamming the U.S. government. According to Kommersant, one forum member told the paper they made $4,000 by sharing a database of voter information to the U.S. Department of State's "Rewards for Justice" program, which is offering a reward of up to $10 million "for information leading to the identification or location of any person who works with or for a foreign government for the purpose of interfering with U.S. elections through certain illegal cyber activities."

Maybe this story is a contender for next year's Foilies Awards.

Alex Stamos, a cybersecurity expert and adjunct professor at Stanford’s Freeman-Spogli Institute, cautioned against freaking out over the news.

"Dark web forums, especially ones in Russian, are chock full of free and paid data dumps like this with no immediate use," he wrote on Twitter.

"We gotta be careful about jumping at shadows and legit reporters and experts should be careful about what credit we give our adversaries without them earning it," he added. "This kind of paranoia is one of the goals of Russia’s influence operations."

Last month, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a sprawling report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, showing coordination between Trump campaign advisers and Kremlin officials. And former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report found that the Russian government "interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion" and "violated U.S. criminal law." The interference included at least $100,000 in social media ads purchased through the shadowy Internet Research Agency, which sought to "provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States," including pro-Trump ads.

In 2016, Trump won Michigan by some 10,000 votes.

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