Hackers attempted to disrupt election systems in 21 of 50 American states during last year’s election, according to the federal government.
While the attempts almost all failed, the wave of attacks nevertheless highlighted how America’s elections systems are targets for disruption at a time when intelligence agencies concluded Russia launched a wide-ranging election meddling campaign.
The government said last year that more than 20 states were targeted by hackers believed to be Russian agents before the 2016 elections. But for many states, the calls on Friday from the Department of Homeland Security were the first official confirmation of whether their states were on the list.
Among those targeted were Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
The government did not say who was behind the hacking attempts or provide details about what had been sought. But election officials in three states said on Friday the attempts could be linked to Russia.
The Wisconsin Election Commission, for example, said the state’s systems were targeted by “Russian government cyber actors.”
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Federal officials said that in most of the 21 states, the targeting was preparatory activity such as scanning computer systems. The targets included voter registration systems but not vote tallying software. Officials said there were some attempts to compromise networks but most were unsuccessful.
Only Illinois reported that hackers had succeeded in breaching its voter systems.
Colorado said the hacking was not quite a breach.
“It’s really reconnaissance by a bad guy to try and figure out how we would break into your computer,” said Trevor Timmons, a spokesman for the Colorado secretary of state’s office. “It’s not an attack. I wouldn’t call it a probe. It’s not a breach, it’s not a penetration.”
The disclosure to the states comes as a special counsel probes whether there was any coordination during the 2016 presidential campaign between Russia and associates of Donald Trump.
Mr Trump, a Republican who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, has called the Russia story a hoax. He says Russian President Vladimir Putin “vehemently denied” the conclusions of American intelligence agencies.