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Russians tried to find weaknesses in California's election website last year, say state officials

Secretary of State Alex Padilla (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Secretary of State Alex Padilla (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California's chief elections officer said U.S. government officials believe Russian hackers tried to find weaknesses in the state's election website during the 2016 campaign, but that there's no evidence their effort was successful.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla said the Department of Homeland Security only told him on Friday of last year's attempt. He described the attack as a "scanning" of the state's website in hopes of finding weaknesses in its computer network.

"Our office actively monitors scanning activity as part of our routine cybersecurity protocols," Padilla said in a statement. "We have no information or evidence that our systems have been breached in any way or that any voter information was compromised."

Those involved were "Russian cyber actors" according to Padilla's description of information he received from federal officials. In June, a top federal official told the Senate Intelligence Committee that systems in 21 states were believed to have been scoured by cyberattackers.

The election website, www.sos.ca.gov, contains public information about voting procedures as well as data on past election results and current issues. More sensitive data, including the electronic files of some 17 million registered voters, are not included on the website.

A leaked National Security Agency document earlier this year outlined a Russian effort to hack into devices made by a Florida-based voting software company. One California county, Humboldt, used the company's software, but did not find any evidence of tampering.

Padilla, a frequent critic of President Trump's special panel investigating the potential of voter fraud, said federal officials should have notified him much earlier of the attempted breach.

"The practice of withholding critical information from elections officials is a detriment to the security of our elections and our democracy," he said.

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