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State agencies to review Russian hacking attempts, prepare for 2020

| Monday, June 11, 2018, 12:36 p.m.
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, is photographed during a Tribune-Review editorial board meeting, in Greensburg, on Monday, June 11, 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, is photographed during a Tribune-Review editorial board meeting, in Greensburg, on Monday, June 11, 2018.

State agencies are reviewing Russian hacking attempts in Pennsylvania to try to make sure election systems are secure before the next presidential election, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced Monday morning.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in fall 2017 that Pennsylvania was one of 21 states targeted — though not breached — leading up to the 2016 election.

The federal department traced IP addresses involved in the attempts to Russia, Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres told reporters in a news conference. Hackers scanned voter registration databases in activity that Torres likened to a burglar checking a neighborhood for unlocked doors or windows.

“If they get in, that's where they can take things. … There's no evidence that occurred in Pennsylvania,” Torres said.

The two agencies are teaming up to verify that no systems in the state were breached and to review — county by county — how voters are registered and voter rolls are kept.

A successful breach of the systems potentially could open up “a lot of chaos possibilities,” DePasquale said, including adding or removing names from the rolls.

He said the audit, which will go back to at least January 2016, isn't focused on the results of the 2016 election but on strengthening systems for the future.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, introduced legislation last year to require the audit. Her bill passed the Senate unanimously, but hasn't moved in the House, so DePasquale and Torres, along with the governor's office, said they are launching the audit without the legislation.

“People will be assured that things are going properly, and if they're not, the auditor general, along with the Department of State, will make it right,” said Ward, calling election security a bipartisan issue.

Torres said Homeland Security scans the state's voter registration system daily to look for vulnerabilities, and the state has undergone more thorough vulnerability assessments with the federal agency.

He said the audit could help guide the state's planned replacement of its system, known as the Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors, which he said needs to be updated in the next two to three years.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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