December 17th, 2013
08:59 AM ET
9 years ago

Report: Chinese hackers attacked crucial government election website

Washington (CNN) - Chinese hackers tapped into the Federal Election Commission's website during the federal government shutdown in October, a report released Tuesday by an investigative news organization says.

The report from the Center for Public Integrity, one of the country's oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations, indicates that hackers crashed the FEC's computer systems, which compiles federal election campaign finance information like contributions to parties and candidates, and how those billions of dollars are spent in each election by candidates, political parties, and independent groups such as political action committees.

The attack came as nearly all of the FEC's employees, except for the presidential-appointed commissioners, were furloughed due to the government shutdown, with not even one staffer being deemed "necessary to the prevention of imminent threats" to federal property. And it came a few months after an independent auditor hired by the government warned that the FEC's computer systems were at "high risk" to infiltration, a charge the commission disputed.

"Hackers from China, in Russia, Syria, you name it are constantly targeting U.S. websites. But what happened here with the Federal Election Commission, which is the independent watchdog sponsored by the government to keep elections fair and free, effectively got hit about as hard as it ever has gotten hit," David Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity said on CNN's "New Day."

"It came as the FEC had absolutely no regular employees actually serving at the agency because of the government shutdown. It was one of the agencies that actually went completely dark during the government shutdown, only had the commissioners themselves manning the doors, manning the systems. They are not IT experts by any stretch of the imagination," Levinthal told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

The CPI says the hacking incident was confirmed by three government officials involved in an ongoing investigation that included the Department of Homeland Security.

"Here you have for days at a time, the FEC's website - which is part and parcel of the agency's mission to provide Americans with the ability to access information about their elections, access information about political campaigns and candidates - and nobody in America could do it during that time. So it was a huge black eye, not only for the agency but for the country's government in general," Levinthal added.

The FEC is not commenting at this time about the hacking incident.

Following the hacking incident, the FEC in November said it had moved certain data servers off-line and replace them with less powerful backup servers, that the agency said would slow the ability for users to navigate the website.

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

Filed under: FEC
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    We can not trust the Chinese where nite Romney sent all our jobs and technology, thanks GOP MORONS!!!!!!!

    December 17, 2013 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  2. Tampa Tim

    Right wingnut jobs are always happy when something bad happened. This should make their day.

    December 17, 2013 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    While republicans are in denial that the shutdown didn't hurt and that $24 billion dollars down the drain is just chump change, they jeopardized our national security. If hackers can get into the FEC's website, just imagine any other sites they infiltrated during the shutdown.

    December 17, 2013 09:14 am at 9:14 am |
  4. Gurgyl

    This is is quite normal with these computers. Just tighten your anti-virus, security. Nothing important should be on computers till some one finds the security in computers. Any one can intrude in to your network. So don't put any thing deemed important, just use computers to email, or play solitaire.

    December 17, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  5. smith

    @Name jk-That was Billy Bob Clinton who open that door.

    December 17, 2013 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  6. Fair is Fair


    So don't put any thing deemed important, just use computers to email, or play solitaire.
    Wll, oh great Sage, how do you enroll in Obamacare? By playing solitaire?

    December 17, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    smith wrote:

    @Name jk-That was Billy Bob Clinton who open that door.
    How? In what way did Clinton "open that door." Bain Capital was around long before Clinton was POTUS. Don't be a demogogue without any facts. Prove what you say. What law did his Republican controlled Congress pass? Hmm?

    December 17, 2013 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  8. Gurgyl

    @fair, you are right this time, government will fix this, investigate, GOP cult commission on it. Punish china with sanctions.

    December 17, 2013 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  9. Sniffit

    I've been saying this from the get-go: the GOP/Teatrolls' shenanigans regarding the budget and debt limit are, hands down, the single biggest threat to national security we currently face. It's absolutely horrifying to finally have proof I've been right.

    Now the question becomes: What the frig do Chinese hackers care about the FEC's files? Who paid them to do it? Assuming it was the Chinese gov't and failing to investigate further is foolishness. I happen to know of some people right here in the US that are currently stopping at nothing to alter and manipulate our elections processes and systems in order to save their election chances in the face of demographic shifts...perhaps we should start looking there.

    December 17, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  10. bhelder

    When are we going to start treating China like the enemy of the US, which is what they are. If we just quit buying their junk, they would collapse like a house of cards.

    December 17, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  11. Thomas

    China has been acting overly arrogant in the past few years.

    December 17, 2013 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  12. current state of the union

    Likely trying to get tips on how to rig elections from the gop. They must laugh when they hear gop talking points,and wonder if we really are that stupid to believe them

    December 17, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  13. Joan

    Hopefully there won't be, but if the NSA program gets cut back dramatically because of Libertarian Snowden and his whining followers and there is a serious attack on American homeland that could have been prevented with tighter surveillance, let's see how many people still support him and call him a hero. Then the haters will blame the government for not being vigilant enough. Can't win. Google, Yahoo and all of the others know what you say in your e-mails, where you shop, what you buy and the list goes on and on. Where's the outrage over that? This latest hacking because of the shutdown can be blamed solely on the Republicans but of course they won't own up to it. Also, don't forget this is not President Obama's NSA program. It was started after 911 for good reasons and he has actually cut back on it. It is too bad that the truth about all that is missed by the media.

    December 17, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  14. Boomer in Mo

    Time to cut trade with China off completely until they quit the cyber war.

    December 17, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  15. Sniffit

    "China has been acting overly arrogant in the past few years."

    Do we know this was China? No. We know it was IP addresses located in China (and Russia and Syria, etc.). There's a difference. You think the people who outsource all of our jobs to China wouldn't outsource their attacks on our electoral systems?

    December 17, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  16. Fair is Fair

    Boomer in Mo

    Time to cut trade with China off completely until they quit the cyber war.
    Yeah... that will work. We make NOTHING in this country any more. We'll lose – and lose BIG – if that happens. That genie ain't going back in that bottle.

    December 17, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |