Russian Hackers Targeted North Dakota. Information not Forthcoming

During a Friday afternoon news dump, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a list of which states’ elections system had been targeted by Russian hackers. Twenty-one states were on the list. North Dakota was one of them. At the moment, it is unclear the outcome of the attempted hack. In fact, it appeared the North Dakota Secretary of State, Al Jaeger, was not even given a full account of the scope of the hacking attempt.

Last year, the FBI and DHS issued warnings to states’ election officials about their concern of potential hacking attempts on their voting systems. Reports hit North Dakota media in August of 2016. Secretary of State Al Jaeger was fairly broad in his public response and it raised some questions on what, if anything, was his office’s internal response to the feds.

So in July of 2017, nearly a year later, I made an open records request to see what the SOS office’s response was to the FBI and DHS. In other words, did their office take the warning seriously? My request for information was denied by Deputy Secretary Jim Silrum. Here is the full response:

Dear Mr. Axness,

Due to the fact that elections has been given a designation of critical infrastructure by the Department of Homeland Security and that NDCC § 44-04-24 states that information relating to critical infrastructure is exempt from the provisions of section 44-04-18 and section 6 of article XI of the Constitution of North Dakota, we are not allowed to disclose the information you seek to obtain. We also can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any such information.

Sincerely,

Jim Silrum

Deputy Secretary of State

Following that denial and conversations with two separate attorneys, I tried to reiterate I was not looking for technical information on voting systems or infrastructure, rather I was curious how the office communicated with the feds. In a brief response from Silrum, I was denied again.

The second open records request denial was on August 1st. I haven’t sought the information since. Seeing how there appears to be an ongoing investigation involving North Dakota’s election system, I am a little more understanding with the denial. North Dakota is in a peculiar place. We are the only state without voter registration. The limited information out in the public about these hacking attempts seems to indicate hacks focused on voter rolls from voter registration. Where does that leave us?

There is one word that stands out in the Associated Press tweet above that should trouble everyone. The word is, “most.” Time will tell and hopefully, the information will be more forthcoming.

UPDATE (10:53AM): “North Dakota was the only state that failed to provide answers. Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger says he “can’t be specific at this time what the situation is.” He says he’s trying to get more information from Washington.” According to a Monday Associated Press report.

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