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What security measures are in place around voter data?

This week, political fallout continued after hackers accessed an analytics program used by the Clinton campaign, along with emails and voicemails from the Democratic National Committee. The hacks have raised concerns over the security of other data from voters and donors. POLITICO national security reporter Bryan Bender joins Hari Sreenivasan

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    The political fallout continues following the cyber attack into a program used by the Clinton campaign, along with a related hack into the emails and voicemails of the Democratic National Committee. But it does raise concerns over other aspects of the election as we head toward November — like the security of voter registrations, voting locations, and donor lists.

    Politico national security reporter Bryan Bender has been looking into this and has found a patchwork of security measures across the country. He joins me now from Washington, D.C.

    You and Cory Bennett had a piece recently that said, let's look at this hacking beyond just the specific incident, beyond the parties. Let's break that down.

    First concern, donor list. I'd imagine a lot of people would be concerned about their Social Security number, the amount that they've given to a candidate, their address, all of that being out in the public for everyone to see.

  • BRYAN BENDER, POLITICO:

    Right. Well, so many things now related to the elections process, the political organization process are digital. And so, in the case of donors, if you give money to a political party, if you give money to a grassroots organization, you do so with the idea that your information is going to be protected.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    Campaigns don't have the equivalent of the Secret Service agency. There is no one agency that manages digital information of the campaigns. Federal election commission, they don't actually have any other authority.

  • BENDER:

    A lot of the election officials we talked to, cyber experts that we talked to, all point outed that basically the election system, the election industry, if you will, is playing catch up when it comes to threats from cyber-space. There is no one government agency that is supposed to layout guidelines and help these, you know, very disparate organizations come up with the rules of the road that the election system, process, registrations from voters, all that kind of information is protected.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    On a county by county basis sometimes, you see diversity of the technology and the option that they choose to use, right? So, what are some things that can go wrong electronically on Election Day?

  • BENDER:

    Well, many of the experts we talked to pointed to the fear that voter registration information could get corrupted by some malicious actor online. For example, someone could break in change the party registration of voters. That would affect a primary, for example, in many states you can only vote in Republican primary if you're registered as a Republican.

    In other cases, you can simply drop people's names from the voter registration rolls and many states, you can't register to vote on Election Day. So, if you showed up at the polls and the system show that you are not registered, you would not be able to vote.

    So, those are just a couple of ways that hackers could seriously corrupt the process, and certainly cause headaches.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    And as the industry catches, it seems like it's a cat and mouse game, that the people who tried to secure it and builds the digital locks, are trying to keep up with the people who've already built the locked picks and made those wildly available?

  • BENDER:

    We talked to the assistant register in Los Angeles County, for example. So, a very large county in California, and he told us that already, there are hundreds of potential attacks, potential intrusions into county web sites, including election-related Web sites, such as the registrar's office. And they tracked those. Some are domestic, some are foreign-based. Now, it's not clear if they're just trying to make trouble or if they're actually trying to affect the electoral process.

    But this is a problem that's already going on and I think a lot of these local communities, local governments, are trying to catch up to deal with this, and figure out, do we have the security possible and can we protect the integrity of the election process? Because that's really what all of this is about?

  • SREENIVASAN:

    Any examples of county level or any kind of election commission successfully thwarting a hack and figuring out what was being attempted on them?

  • BENDER:

    Well, we do know that Illinois, we know that hackers got into the voter registration rolls. And obviously, that was something that government officials were able to track, and were able to plug the holes. But one of the big worries is that hackers could do some very subtle things. Election officials might not notice it immediately, if ever.

    So, I think there's some worry that some of these attacks may not be large, they can be very small, pinprick attacks, but done in a strategic way where they could have impact on the election.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    Bryan Bender of "Politico" — thanks for joining us.

  • BENDER:

    Thank you.

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