WASHINGTON - Two Russian intelligence officers named Friday in an indictment accusing them and 10 others with conducting a hacking campaign that targeted Democratic political organizations snooped around state and local election-related websites in Florida, Iowa and Georgia as part of a broader scheme to disrupt the 2016 election.
Federal prosecutors charged that two defendants - Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev and Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osadchuk - “targeted” state and county offices administering the 2016 elections in October, only a month before Election Day to “identify vulnerabilities.” They said Kovalev and others used an email account designed to look like a election-system vendor in November 2016 to send more than 100 “spearphishing” emails with malware to infect host computers in numerous Florida counties.
No specific agency or county in Florida, Iowa and Georgia were named in the 29-page indictment.
The Des Moines, Iowa, Register, reported Friday that Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said Iowa's systems weren't compromised.
"There is no evidence of any unauthorized intrusions into Iowa's election systems," Pate said in a statement. "The Mueller indictment refers to visiting websites, not hacking them. There's a big difference. It's the equivalent of burglars driving around a neighborhood looking for a house they might be able to rob."
He said his office has partnered with all 99 county auditors to strengthen cybersecurity efforts. That includes cybersecurity training and requiring two-step authentication for access to the voter registration database, he said.
Florida elections officials issued a similar statement, saying Florida “was not hacked.”
“To be clear, the 2016 elections in Florida was not hacked in any way. As we have stated multiple times, the Department of State was notified by the Department of Homeland Security in September 2017 that Florida was unsuccessfully targeted by hackers in 2016. This attempt was not in any way successful and Florida's online elections databases and voting systems remained secure,” said Sarah Revell, a spokesperson for the Florida Division of Elections in an emailed statement to USA TODAY. “The Department is focused on the continued security and integrity of Florida’s elections in 2018 and beyond,” she said.
The federal indictment announced in Washington on Friday included charges of conspiracy, aggravated identity theft and money laundering. Federal prosecutors asserted that the Russian hackers corresponded with "several" Americans. But Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said there was no evidence that the Americans were aware that they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers.
He said the announcement of the charges were made with "no regard to politics," adding that the evidence was "sufficient" to bring the case.
The 12 suspects, according to the indictment, were attached to two military divisions of Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate, known as the GRU — Unit 26165 and Unit 74455. In 2016, Unit 26165 operatives allegedly launched spearphishing campaigns — sending misleading emails to targets in attempts to steal usernames, passwords and other personal information — against the Clinton campaign.
Those stolen credentials, according to federal prosecutors, were used to hack into the DCCC and the DNC. At the same time, the suspects were able to "monitor" the activities of dozens of staffers and "implant hundreds of malicious files to steal passwords and maintain access to these networks."
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Erin Kelly, Jessica Estepa, Brad Heath and Nicole Gaudiano