FBI director: Hackers will struggle to attack U.S. voting system because it is 'clunky as heck'

FBI Director James Comey (Flickr / Brookings Institution)


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The upcoming U.S. presidential election will be inherently difficult for hackers to attack because of the system’s reliance on unsophisticated, old and “clunky” voting hardware, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday in front of an audience of former and present government officials, security vendors and journalists, Thursday.

“The beauty of the American voting system is that it is dispersed among the 50 states, and it is clunky as heck,’’ said Comey. “A lot of people have found that challenging over the years, but the beauty of that is it’s not exactly a swift part of the internet of things, and so it is hard for an actor to reach our voting process.’’

Though Comey, whose comments came at the 2016 Intelligence & National Security Summit in Washington, D.C., declined to comment directly on an ongoing investigation into two, recently disclosed data breaches affecting state voter databases in Arizona and Illinois.

The FBI Director explained that the Bureau takes “very seriously the notion that a nation state actor is messing with our democratic election process.”

“The FBI’s job now is to work very hard to understand that threat, all dimensions of it, so we can present our policy makers with the information they need,” he added.

Comey’s appearance comes at a time when lawmakers and the public are growing increasingly worried about electronic sabotage disrupting the November election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that the Kremlin was involved in hacking the aforementioned voter databases during a Bloomberg interview last week. Even so, circumstantial evidence uncovered by private, Arlington, Va.-based cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect suggests otherwise; tying those same attacks on American voter databases to old email phishing campaigns believed to have been conducted by a group with connections to Russian intelligence.

Election cybersecurity has become a hot button issue over the last several months for the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson previously said that his department is weighing whether or not to reclassify election systems as critical infrastructure, a move that would likely augment election cybersecurity funding and oversight capabilities.

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election security, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), hackers, James Comey