Chinese hackers tapped into the Federal Election Commission’s website during the federal government shutdown in October, a report released Tuesday by an investigative news organization says.
The report from the Center for Public Integrity, one of the country’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations, indicates that hackers crashed the FEC’s computer systems, which compiles federal election campaign finance information like contributions to parties and candidates, and how those billions of dollars are spent in each election by candidates, political parties, and independent groups such as political action committees.
The attack came as nearly all of the FEC’s employees, except for the presidential-appointed commissioners, were furloughed due to the government shutdown, with not even one staffer being deemed “necessary to the prevention of imminent threats” to federal property. And it came a few months after an independent auditor hired by the government warned that the FEC’s computer systems were at “high risk” to infiltration, a charge the commission disputed.
“Hackers from China, in Russia, Syria, you name it are constantly targeting U.S. websites. But what happened here with the Federal Election Commission, which is the independent watchdog sponsored by the government to keep elections fair and free, effectively got hit about as hard as it ever has gotten hit,” David Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“It came as the FEC had absolutely no regular employees actually serving at the agency because of the government shutdown. It was one of the agencies that actually went completely dark during the government shutdown, only had the commissioners themselves manning the doors, manning the systems. They are not IT experts by any stretch of the imagination,” Levinthal told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
The CPI says the hacking incident was confirmed by three government officials involved in an ongoing investigation that included the Department of Homeland Security.
“Here you have for days at a time, the FEC’s website – which is part and parcel of the agency’s mission to provide Americans with the ability to access information about their elections, access information about political campaigns and candidates – and nobody in America could do it during that time. So it was a huge black eye, not only for the agency but for the country’s government in general,” Levinthal added.
Following the hacking incident, the FEC in November said it had moved certain data servers off-line and replace them with less powerful backup servers, that the agency said would slow the ability for users to navigate the website.