Oregon Elections Director Steve Trout said he himself has been hit by a dozen phishing attempts since July. In all of 2017, he had only one or two.
Phishing is an attempt to trick people into sharing sensitive information such as passwords and usernames, often by inducing them to click on a bogus link or by pretending to be an entity.
The FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials advised Trout and others attending a security summit this week that there has been a huge increase in phishing attempts in the nation, targeting elections officials and other critical infrastructure such as energy and banking sectors, Trout told journalists Tuesday.
In the run-up to the 2018 election, federal, state and local officials are trying to be more vigilant about attempts to affect the vote, mindful of the 2016 election in which Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Democratic National Committee emails were hacked and leaked.
The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday it has been sharing classified and unclassified information with state officials and other critical infrastructure entities about notable attempts at phishing.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian sought to undermine the 2016 election in favor of then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and against Clinton. DHS is not blaming anyone so far for the ongoing phishing attempts.
“DHS has not attributed these phishing attempts to a nation state or any other actor,” the department said in a statement. “Phishing is an extremely common practice on the Internet.”
In an email to The Associated Press, Trout described the phishing attempts aimed at him. Many told him to reset his Outlook password and provided a link, or told him his information technology department would be integrating his account into a new Outlook web-mail system.
“One was acting like it was the Department of Justice but with a weird email address and another was selling gold bars,” Trout said.
Emails determined by Trout’s information security team to be phishing attempts are sent to the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI could take action from there, Trout told reporters. He said he doesn’t know the status of those his office sent to DHS.
In Oregon, ballots are mailed to voters and returned either by mail or left in drop boxes. In each county, filled-out ballots are kept in locked rooms outfitted with security cameras, except for one sparsely populated county where tallies are conducted in a jury room where there is no camera, except at the entrance, Trout said.
The voter registration database has detection devices in place to alert officials if it has been tampered with. If it has, the database can be restored to the latest known good version, Trout said.
Early ballot returns in Oregon show that voter turnout so far is 124,056 higher than the previous high for a midterm election, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson’s office said Wednesday. Turnout late Tuesday stood at 657,480. The previous midterm election high at this point was in 2014, when 533,424 ballots were returned.
But the percent returned — 23.8 percent — almost matches the Tuesday before the 2014 midterm elections: 24.5 percent. The reason more completed ballots have been turned in so far this year with the percentage remaining roughly the same is because of population growth and increased voter registration, Richardson said.
He issued a statement late Wednesday saying some voters have been contacted by “non-official entities” who incorrectly told them they’re not registered to vote or that their voter registration is inactive. Richardson gave no details.
Trout said the biggest threat facing the election is misinformation, via word of mouth, social media or mainstream media.
“We are in the middle of an information war,” Trout said. He did not elaborate on his statement that mainstream media has been spreading misinformation.
The Internet Research Agency, essentially a Russian troll farm, has been indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller for its actions during the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook and other social media companies are attempting to halt election meddling and misinformation campaigns on their platforms.
Associated Press reporter Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.