Some Mississippi state websites were briefly taken offline on Tuesday after so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks as voters drove to polling places statewide and nationwide.
US Department of Homeland Security officials stressed that such attacks, which flood websites with computer messages, would not affect vote totals. The two US cybersecurity officials spoke on condition of anonymity on Tuesday evening to discuss ongoing operations.
The two DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency officials said there were no specific or credible threats disrupting election infrastructure or any activity that should cause voters to question the integrity of the election.
Mississippi officials confirmed the “abnormally large increase in traffic volume” due to DDoS activity, which rendered some of its websites “periodically inaccessible” on Tuesday afternoon.
“We want to be clear and (reassure) the people of Mississippi that our electoral system is secure and has not been compromised,” the office of the Mississippi secretary of state said in a statement.
A group of Russian hackers claimed in a Telegram article on Tuesday that they were targeting the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office website to “access the section directly related to the election,” according to a review of the Telegram account by USA TODAY. .
The hacker group also claimed that it would “attack US Democrats as an election giveaway to Republicans”, and that its first target would be the Democratic National Committee.
According to a website that checks for server downtime, the DNC website was last down on Tuesday, but it’s unclear what caused the outage or how long it lasted. Websites can regularly crash for all sorts of non-negative reasons. A DNC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While identifying who is behind such attacks can be complicated, DHS officials said they had seen no evidence to suggest the attacks were part of a widespread or coordinated campaign. One of the officials said that although they are aware of a group of Russian pirates claiming responsibility for the attacks on the Mississippi, the US government needs more evidence to attribute such attacks.
DHS officials attributed problems in individual electoral jurisdictions, including Maricopa County, Arizona, to routine problems on Election Day.
Elizabeth Holbert Jonson, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, said Tuesday night that the websites affected by the attack only provided external content to voters, but did not involve any internal election-related processes. Jonson said she was aware of news reports about the Russian hacking group’s claims, but did not immediately have information about the credibility of their claims.
“We don’t have confirmation as to where the DDoS activity originated,” Jonson told USA TODAY.
The apparent cyberattacks came a day after Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy Russian businessman and top confidant of Vladimir Putin, allegedly claimed on Telegram that the Kremlin intentionally interfered in US elections with the aim of subverting US democracy. The man commonly referred to as “Putin’s leader” has hinted that the Kremlin will continue to interfere in the US democratic process.
“We intervened, we intervene and we will interfere,” Prigozhin said.