Hackers may be behind election night website crash in Tennessee

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(Bloomberg) -- The shutdown of a county website in Tennessee -- which briefly disrupted the display of election-night results in primary races -- is under investigation, and occurred as officials around the country fear cyber attacks in this fall’s midterm elections.

A server crashed, shutting down the Knox County website just as polls closed Monday night for local government offices, according to a statement from Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. The website was down for about an hour before officials restored it.

“Although the crash didn’t affect the vote tallies or the integrity of the election, this is not something that should happen,” Burchett said. “I want to know what happened, and I think an independent review will help to determine that so we can move forward and work to prevent similar issues in the future.”

American intelligence officials have said that elections this November offer potential targets for more Russian meddling after attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign. While the 2016 effort focused mostly on spreading false information, Russia targeted voter registration databases in 21 states, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Only Illinois has indicated it had voter data stolen.

‘Root Cause’

In the Tennessee episode, Burchett hired a local cyber firm, Sword & Shield Enterprise Security Inc., to investigate the “root cause” of the server’s shutdown, according to the statement.

A preliminary review by the county information technology department found “extremely heavy and abnormal network traffic was originating from numerous” internet protocol addresses “associated with numerous geographic locations” both inside and outside of the U.S. It didn’t specify whether any of the addresses were in Russia.

Dick Moran, the county’s information technology director, said the episode was “highly suggestive” of a distributed denial of service, or DDOS, attack.

Chris Davis, county deputy elections administrator, said in a telephone interview that the technology department alerted his office of the attack as results from polling places were coming in, but the “election ran smooth from our perspective.”

Primary voting is underway in several states, with Tennessee holding its congressional primaries in August. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Jeanette Manfra told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on April 24 that federal authorities haven’t yet seen any targeting from Russia or other actors in this year’s elections.

Bloomberg News