Sen. Marco Rubio’s statement contradicts the secretary of state's office, which maintained last week that its elections systems weren't hacked. Secretary Laurel Lee also said at the time that the FBI hadn't told the state which county they believe was compromised.
(TNS) –– Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed Friday there was an intrusion into Florida's elections systems by hackers in 2016, according to The New York Times.
Rubio, R-Fla., would not say who was behind the hacking, saying he was constrained by his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but the redacted version of the Mueller report released April 18 stated the FBI believes "at least one Florida county" was infiltrated with malicious software sent out by Russian intelligence agents.
Rubio's statement contradicts the Florida secretary of state's office, which maintained last week that its elections systems weren't hacked. Secretary Laurel Lee also said at the time that the FBI hadn't told the state which county they believe was compromised.
Rubio said the information was discovered through an intelligence operation, not a criminal investigation,
"Everybody has been told what it is they need to do to protect themselves from the intrusion," Rubio told the Times. "I don't believe the specific victims of the intrusion have been notified. The concern was that in a number of counties across the country, there are a couple of people with the attitude of: 'We've got this; we don't need your help. We don't think we need to do what you are telling us we need to do.'"
The hackers, were "in a position" to change voter roll information, he told the Times, but it didn't appear they did.
Last year, then-Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., warned that Russians had gained access to Florida voter data but declined to identify which county or counties had been penetrated, saying the information was classified. No other officials backed up Nelson's claim, including Rubio, and his opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, and national Republicans attacked Nelson for what GOP campaign emails called his "alarming claims" and "extremely reckless behavior."
Rubio did warn repeatedly in 2016 that "state election systems are potentially vulnerable to Russian cyberattacks."
Gov. Ron DeSantis had said at a press conference in Orlando last week that he didn't believe any breach would have affected vote totals.
But in Miami on Thursday, according to Politico, he was critical of the FBI, telling reporters, "They won't tell us which county it was, are you kidding me? Why would you have not said something immediately?"
DeSantis and now Sen. Scott, who defeated Nelson, will meet with the FBI in coming weeks to discuss the Russian hacking attempts on Florida counties in 2016.
Scott's office said the FBI has reached out to him and is working on scheduling a briefing in the next few weeks. DeSantis' office said no date has yet been set.
The report stated that in November 2016, Russian intelligence officials "sent spearphishing emails to over 120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election."
The emails contained an attached Word document with malicious "Trojan" software that would have permitted Russian intelligence to access the infected computer. But none of the 52 Florida counties that had contracts with VR Systems, the Tallahassee company that was allegedly impersonated, has admitted to opening that document.
Volusia County elections supervisor Lisa Lewis said Thursday the office opened one of the infected emails in 2016, but not the infected attachment. Broward County Supervisor Peter Antonacci said this week the county received the email, but it was quarantined by anti-virus software and officials wouldn't have had the opportunity to open the attachment.
Sun Sentinel staff writer Anthony Man contributed to this report.
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