The secretary of state of Georgia is asking the Department of Homeland Security to explain what appears to be an attempted breach of the state’s computer systems that house its voter registration database by someone in the federal government.
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson dated Thursday, Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp said the state had discovered an unsuccessful attempt to breach the firewall of state computer systems. The attempt occurred on November 15 and was linked to an IP address associated with DHS, he said.
A spokesman for Mr. Kemp confirmed the contents of the letter, which was earlier reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
“At no time has my office agreed to or permitted DHS to conduct penetration testing or security scans of our network,” wrote Mr. Kemp, a Republican. “Moreover, your department has not contacted my office since this unsuccessful incident to alert us of any security event that would require testing or scanning of our network.”
A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The alleged attempted intrusion by the federal government on a state computer system responsible for election security was detected by a third-party security firm working for the state of Georgia. The attempt was unsuccessful, according to the state. The computers also house information about company incorporations.
In his letter, Mr. Kemp asked the department to confirm whether a scan attempt was made, who authorized the scan and whether the department was scanning other state systems without authorization.
The Department of Homeland Security made a major push in advance of November’s elections to help states secure election systems against possible hacking, as fears of foreign interference in the U.S. election process reached a fever pitch in the months leading up to Election Day.
The department also considered declaring election systems “critical infrastructure,” which would have given the federal government additional authority to protect the systems. DHS didn’t take that step, however, as many states expressed concern about additional federal authority over their election systems and said the constitution provided states the right to run their own elections.
As a result of some of the concerns, the department clarified that assistance on election-related security matters was voluntary and encouraged states to take advantage of DHS resources and expertise to help secure state election systems.
“DHS assistance is strictly voluntary and does not entail regulation, binding directives, and is not offered to supersede state and local control over the process,” Mr. Johnson, the DHS chief, said in September.
Georgia was one of the states that had declined the federal government’s assistance for election security, citing state sovereignty. “Right now, we’re just demanding answers,” said David Dove, a top aide to the Georgia secretary of state. “My boss, Secretary Kemp, has been a very vocal critic of the Department of Homeland Security declaring election systems critical infrastructure.”