A sign for voters outside of a California polling location.

Mike Colgan/KCBS Radio

Elections Office Attacked By Apparent Foreign Malware

April 25, 2019 - 2:20 pm

A malware attack that hit the Contra Costa County Elections office put elections officials on high alert for possible foreign tampering.

The incident never posed a real threat to the integrity of voting in the county, according to authorities, but a cybersecurity expert told KCBS Radio that it exposed vulnerabilities. 

The intrusion began in March when a county worker clicked on what seemed like an innocuous email attachment. That click activated malware, which attempted to contact an IP address in Russia, sparking the fears of international meddling. 

Ultimately, investigations by state and federal authorities determined that no election data had been compromised and the phishing scheme had probably never intended to target the elections office in the first place. 

Officials "are very aware of the potential threats and we're vigilant and we have systems in places," said Scott Konell Pasic from the county's Registrar of Voters. "Voters can be confident that we are actively doing everything we can to insure the integrity of the election process."

But, Steve Grobman, the chief technology officer for cybersecurity company McAfee said that this episode illustrates "how vulnerable the local elections systems are" and that applies to "not only the technology, but the people."