Legislation declaring hacking both foreign and domestic into voting systems a federal crime has been signed into law by President Trump.
Trump’s signature confirming the Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act carries with it serendipitous, yet ominous timing coming so close to the national election. On Wednesday, October 21, U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said both Iran and Russia have obtained U.S. voter registration information, much of which is in the public domain but, nonetheless evidence of expected foreign tampering with the election. U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly warned that cyber adversaries will try to influence voters.
In September, House legislators approved by unanimous vote the Act, which the Senate previously passed as sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last year. The bill’s intent is to make cyber break-ins on federal voting infrastructure a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), whose origin dates to 1986 and is based on striking a balance between the federal government’s interest in computer crime and the interests and abilities of the states to prohibit and punish offenses of that nature. While the Justice Department often relies on the CFAA to indict hackers accused of cyber crimes, there’s also a hole in that law in that it only applies to internet-facing systems. Election equipment isn’t typically hooked up to the internet.
Blumenthal praised the legislation being signed into law. “Strong safeguards enacted by this law are necessary to protect our election systems against threats from foreign adversaries seeking to undermine our democracy,” he told The Hill. “The Department of Justice will now be equipped with powerful tools to vigorously prosecute and stop malicious hackers attempting to hack our election infrastructure.”
Intelligence officials believe that it was Russian operatives who hacked into state and local networks to gain sensitive information about U.S. voting infrastructure, the New York Times reported. U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly discovered Russian activity from breaking into the Kremlin’s networks, the report said. In breaching the networks of dozens of state and local governments and aviation networks, Russian state hackers stole data from at least two unidentified victims’ computer servers and continued to sift through some of the breached networks, the NYT reported.