First Confirmed Case of Attempted Cyberfraud in U.S. Election

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Unidentified hackers tried last year to steal absentee ballots from Florida’s online election system, making it the first confirmed cyberfraud attempt involving voting.


More than 2,500 “phantom requests” for absentee ballots were sent to the Miami-Dade County elections website prior to the state’s August primary, according to law enforcement officials investigating the case. The fraudulent requests for ballots focused on Democratic voters in the 26th Congressional District and Republicans in Florida House districts 103 and 112.


The election involved nine candidates, one of whom, Justin Lamar Sternad, was criminally charged with campaign reporting violations and who has refused to say if he had involvement in the hacking scheme.


A grand jury investigation (pdf) found the requests originated from IP addresses in Ireland, England, India and other countries. But investigators were unable to determine the identity of the culprits, leaving the prosecutor to close the case.


Then the Miami Herald reported that three IP addresses in the United States were linked to the requests, which prompted the state attorney’s office for Miami-Dade County to reopen the investigation.


The hacking operation didn’t succeed because the ballot requests were flagged as suspicious by election computer software. The telltale signs of impropriety were the limited number of IP addresses, the rapid pace of the streaming requests, and the fact that none of them were sent randomly. Even if their effort had succeeded, the plotters wouldn’t have affected the election outcomes.


But next time might be different. The operation was not that sophisticated, particularly the creation of foreign IP addresses to mask the real identity of the perpetrator, according to New York private investigator Steven Rambam. “And that, of course, is the most frightening thing,” he told the Herald, “that any moderately or even marginally skilled programmer could have done this.’’

-Danny Biederman, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Cyberattack on Florida Election is First Known Case in US, Experts Say (by Gil Aegerter, NBC News)

Final Report of the Miami-Dade County Grand Jury (pdf)

The Case of the Phantom Ballots: An Electoral Whodunit (by Patricia Mazzei, Miami Herald)

Can Voting Machines be Hacked? No Problem (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Florida Finally Finds a Case of Voter Fraud (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Investigation Turns Up Only 10 Cases of Voter Impersonation Nationwide…in 10 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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