A ransomware attack that took over some Hall County election information won’t harm other Georgia election systems, according to the secretary of state’s office.
“There is no connective tissue between those things, so I want to put everyone’s mind at ease on that,” Gabriel Sterling, the state’s voting system manager, said during a meeting Thursday of Georgia’s new Safe, Secure, and Accessible Elections Task Force.
Hackers penetrated Hall’s networks and captured some election information, hindering the county’s ability to verify voter signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, Sterling said.
“They weren’t targeting an election system. They were just targeting anywhere where they could get in,” Sterling said. “It never touched the state system.”
Ransomware hacks are attacks that hold a computer network’s information hostage until the victim agrees to make a payment to release the files.
The attack prevented election workers from matching signatures on absentee ballots to scanned signatures from when voters first registered, part of the process of validating ballots as they arrive.
Election workers had to rely on paper files to compare absentee ballot signatures.
Sterling also said the secretary of state’s website had received “pings” to test for weaknesses.
“The other thing you might have seen on the news here and there was the potential targeting of the secretary of state’s site by Russian and/or Iranian hackers,” Sterling said. “These are the things where they try to ping, see if there’s any weaknesses.”
In response, he said the secretary of state’s office moved up timelines for implementing pre-election security measures.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger recently created the bipartisan task force of county election directors, civil rights leaders and nonpartisan groups to communicate about challenges to election administration.
The task force’s meeting wasn’t open to the general public, but reporters from several news organizations were invited to listen, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The task force also discussed voter turnout, power outages during early voting Thursday, an upcoming election audit and absentee ballots.