Russian hacking in Illinois puts our next election in peril

Controversy related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey as well as the reckless release of sensitive information to Russia during an active investigation should give us pause to consider those circumstances giving rise to such possibilities as well as what we must do moving forward to protect our democracy. Our voting system is in peril and we must do something to fix it immediately, otherwise we stand the risk of losing our democracy permanently.

This article discusses voter registration and voting machine related issues which indicate hacking of the election systems. While there may be other explanations for the problems described below, the fact remains that we must do something to fix our election and voting systems as soon as possible in order to avoid future compromise. I have already detailed circumstances indicating hacking in the following states: Arizona, Alabama, Alaska, CaliforniaColorado, ConnecticutFlorida’s primary electionFlorida’s general electionGeorgia, Hawaii, & Idaho. The information below goes through Illinois in the 2016 election, primary and general.


On March 14, 2016, during early voting for the primary election, there were numerous reports of voting machine failures in Chicago. Voters reported picking a candidate and the receipt reflecting different information. They also reported trouble with the correct candidate information showing up. Board of Elections spokesperson, James Allen explained that their staff would verify calibration of the machines.

On April 5, 2016, the Chicago Board of Elections met to discuss an automatic recount of 5% which is required to ensure election integrity. Some of the observers, noted deeply disturbing issues, explaining that the machine totals did not match the paper totals and accused election officials of changing paper votes to reflect machine totals. Below is the hearing where these issues were discussed at length:

The comments regarding the Board’s meeting were critical, however, the results stood.

The important part here are the machine vote totals which were not said to match the paper ballot totals. This issue requires further in-depth study and analysis in order for us to have a better idea about what exactly happened with machines and why they did not reconcile.

On June 23, 2016, the Illinois State Board of Elections (SBE) is hit with a malicious SQL injection. The act went unnoticed for nearly 3 weeks. At the time, hackers gained valuable and critical information in a highly concerning manner.

On July 12, 2016 McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael posted a message on Facebook regarding the infiltrated election systems. The posting detailed how the event had used form fields to gain access to sensitive voting information using SQL injection.

The above message was sent by Kyle Thomas, Illinois SBE Director of Voting and Registration Systems and it explained that he believed the attack, while reaching voter information, did not add, delete or change records, nor did they seem to call up voting records. It is interesting to note that there is an actual copy of a certain voter’s record in Illinois. It this information was able to be accessed undetected, it could be highly problematic.


On July 13, 2016, officials took the Illinois Voter Registration System offline.

On July 19, 2016, the Illinois SBE notified the General Assembly and the Attorney General’s Office.

On July 21, the system went back online after making numerous security enhancements. Ken Menzel, the Illinois Board of Elections’ General Council explained in local media that hackers infiltrated via:

“a chink in the armor in one small data field in the online registration system,”

But again, the attack was significant enough for officials to take Illinois Voter Registration System offline in addition to the integrated vital records system which contains voter databases.

On August 12, 2016, attempted attacks abruptly ceased.

On August 18, 2016, the government complained that “hacking tools” had been stolen and issued an alert which was later disclosed by the media.

It is important to note here that the United States lost some of its most valuable hacking tools, disclosed in June 2016 by the New York Times, that these tools were ransomed, and this threat would later come out one week prior to the election from a group, the Shadow Brokers, claiming to hold the tools.

The Shadow Brokers are currently selling a subscription service of what it claims are NSA hacking tools. The information unfortunately is quite credible.

On August 26, 2016, the Illinois State Board of Elections issued the following report:

The report indicated that the SBE website was hit a massive number of 5 times per second 24 hours per day. The Board also concluded that “various IVRS passwords were compromised.” Those with compromised passwords included election authorities, staffers, SBE users, vendors and web services.

In order to maintain  compliance with the Illinois Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). The SBE was responsible for notifying the State Assembly in the event of any such breach. The report explains that it is not final, however, no further report has been published from the SBE, despite calls from the Senate. This information should be updated so that people have a good, working understanding of thee election systems in Illinois.

Many people attribute the design of the “hacking tools” to a consortium called The Equation Group which techies believe is the NSA. Some of the details on this information was apparently found in some documents which Snowden leaked thus MATCHING The Equation Group with the NSA.

On September 1, 2016 WHNT News ran a story explaining that Alabama took action on the FBI Flash letter sent regarding suspected election hacking of Arizona and Illinois voting systems, later traced to known Russian hacking incidents.

In Illinois, in truly disturbing form, hackers used malicious SQL/database scanning software to inject code and obtain 200,000 voter files.

The case of voter registration hacking in Illinois and Arizona, led the FBI, among other intelligence agencies to issue the above alert attempting to explain to voting officials how to identify and act upon these new threats. Many counties simply did not have the technical resources to deal with election fraud and hacking properly and in a timely manner. Additionally, there are political questions which get in the way – the voting systems are particularly vulnerable.

On November 8, 2016, there were various reports of broken machines. Additionally, there were reports of machines not working and election judges not responding to the site to ensure proper voting and protocols were taking place.

The National Association of Voting Officials reached out to Illinois to ask for a forensic audit of the election systems.

However, Illinois has yet to provide permission or to respond to the request.

On March 15, 2017, the Illinois passed Senate Resolution 93:

The bill echoed The SBE initial findings and called upon the SBE to conclude their investigation, additionally, the resolution states:

“We urge that the Illinois SBE produce a final comprehensive report outlining the nature of breach, an audit of their IT Systems and that they enact preventative measures to ensure that such cyber interference never occurs again.”

There is yet to be any reporting on these particular issues published. This is highly concerning because the people need more accountability and transparency and the SBE promised a comprehensive report previously.


The case of Illinois is a combination of issues which ultimately boil down to a lack of reporting information to the general public. Because the SBE has yet to release a final report on hacking, there is a lot of information missing from the story. It is important to note that it has been almost a year since the attacks took place and SBE became notified of the issue. We need a follow up from the SBE. Even the Senate called for an analysis of the systems.

With the recent release of the Wanna Cry ransomware and zero day vulnerability, among other well-documented issues related to the voting systems, we need to begin with an analysis of ALL voting machines to check for traces of malicious viruses. Once we are able to assess the damage, we will be able to make a better solution.

Voting itself needs to be as open and transparent as possible so the American people can have buy-in that the system is being fixed properly. NAVO advocates the following system which includes a 100% count at the precinct level, paper ballots and Open Source, General Public License software. The multiple redundancies help to ensure that the system is working properly. They are considered checks and balances in the event of compromise.

Open source software/paper ballot election systems are now deployed in New Hampshire and funds have been allocated for projects in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Texas per the National Association of Voting Officials.

Also important to note is that we can secure voter registration system though verification, such as two-factor authentication for any changes in information, various scripting solutions, and/or mail/email confirmation, among countless other solutions which I will detail once the 50 state survey is complete. Voter registration and vote count hacking should be at the very top of the list for any all Americans. If the issues are not rectified quickly lawmakers and candidates may find themselves in perilous circumstances where our very democracy will be at stake.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *