After attempted hack, Florida elections officials reviewing security of your vote

FL-based elections vendor denies hack
Posted at 5:46 PM, Jun 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-22 17:46:32-04

"In 2016, the Russian government, at the direction of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyber attacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election -- plain and simple," testified Jeh Johnson, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, to Congress, confirming that Russia used a Florida-based election software vendor as bait to get into county voter rolls.

All but 3 counties in Florida use the company, called VR Systems, including the counties here in the Tampa Bay Area.

Despite this close call, election supervisors appear confident in VR Systems and tell ABC Action News they will continue to use the major company, which also operates in 7 other states.

"Supervisors in this state are very vigilant each and every day," says Craig Latimer, the Elections Supervisor for Hillsborough County, an elected position.

"We know there's bad actors out there. We know there's threats. That's why we're trying to keep on top of our systems make sure we've got the proper procedures practices and equipment in place," Latimer tells ABC Action News.

Latimer was among many Supervisor of Elections officials at an annual Elections conference this week in Osceola County, featuring talks and discussions about cyber-security and elections data safety.

One of the speakers was David Becker, founder of the non-profit Center for Election Innovation and Research.

"One of the facts that we know is the threat is real," Becker tells ABC Action News at the conference before his seminar. "Russians, and perhaps other foreign governments, are trying to hack in the systems here in the U.S. but one of the other important facts we know is there's zero evidence that it impacted the vote counts in 2016."

VR Systems declined to talk to ABC Action News, but says in a statement that they were not hacked, but rather, "cyber actors sent an email from a fake account to election officials in an unknown number of districts just days before the 2016 general election. The fraudulent email asked recipients to open an attachment, which would then infect their computer, providing a gateway for more mischief. We have heard of no accounts of election officials who opened the attachment. Most election officials have security systems in place that would have flagged the email before it even reached the intended recipient."

Latimer says that's exactly what happened at his office.

"We were one of the recipients of those emails. We didnt know it because our anti-virus worked properly, threw them into quarantine, never made it to a desk top of any individuals in our office," says Latimer, adding that his office actually had to go look for them to see if they had gotten them at all, which they did.

"The one thing you've got to remember about Florida though is that we have a paper ballot," adds Latimer. "You can always go back and look at those paper ballots. Plus we also, at the end of every election, do a manual audit."

That's not to say Latimer and other elections officials aren't worried about hacking. Much of the Orlando-area conference was dedicated to discussing the 2016 election and cyber-security. But through vigilance, Latimer is confident in the safety of elections in his county.