November 7, 2016 - Chamblee - Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp boards a plane Monday morning at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport, kicking off a statewide tour ahead Tuesday’s Election Day. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Kemp questions feds claim that agency made no attempt to hack Georgia

While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security claimed last week that there was no attempt to hack into the state’s election computer system, Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office maintains it’s too soon to know if that’s true

A senior DHS official told Kemp last week that there was no attempt to hack Georgia’s network, but did acknowledge an agency employee left an electronic paper trail that might make it appear something nefarious was afoot. Kemp’s office said Monday that federal officials cannot say that with certainty.

“After contacting our office late this afternoon, DHS has still not been able to confirm the origin or intent of this attack,” David Dove, Kemp’s chief of staff and legal counsel, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This was a reconnaissance scan that raised red flags with our vendor’s counter-threat unit.”

Kemp last week demanded the federal agency explain why someone using a DHS computer attempted to access Georgia’s voter registration database. Homeland Security launched an internal investigation. The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that DHS had tracked the incident to a computer at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“DHS has not intentionally scanned the systems of the Georgia Secretary of State office. DHS has not tried to break into those systems,” Philip McNamara wrote in an email to Kemp, according to the Wall Street Journal.

McNamara went on to say the agency was “deeply concerned” and continues to investigate.

An employee with DHS was using licensing databases on the Secretary of State’s website to verify an individual’s background, the agency claimed. Federal officials told Kemp that they believe the employee’s computer was incorrectly set up so that a legitimate visit to the website inadvertently set off alarms.

Last week’s contrempts follow a dispute this summer between the state and federal agencies. The FBI encouraged states in August to allow it to test their election security systems, an invitation Kemp declined. Georgia was one of two states to refuse as Kemp sought to reassure voters the state’s system was well protected.

The FBI’s cyber division had warned states in August that it was investigating hacking-related incidents related to elections data systems in two states — believed to be Arizona and Illinois. A month later, state officials said Georgia was not one of 20 states that had voter registration systems targeted in recent months by hackers.

That claim came after FBI Director James Comey told House Judiciary Committee members that his agency has detected a variety of “scanning activities” related to election systems in the United States.

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