Palm Beach County Potentially Suffered Ransomware Attack Just Before 2016 Presidential Election

  • The incident was never made public by the county.
  • Several Florida state and government networks were also hit by ransomware attacks in 2019.

The fact that a Florida county's election office was hit by a ransomware attack weeks before the 2016 US presidential elections came to light in a recent interview.

What happened?

Current election supervisor of the Palm Beach County election office, Wendy Sartory Link revealed that the ransomware infection was never made public for some reason.

  • She was interviewing for the position of IT director for the election office when she became aware of it.
  • The ransomware infected the county’s computer systems and encrypted all its data yet nothing it was not reported to either the FBI or DHS.
  • In fact, one of the candidates was the second-in-command in the IT department when the attack took place in 2016.

Attacks were underplayed

Link joined the office in January 2019 after Florida Governor suspended the previous election supervisor for unlawful actions.

The suspended governor disclosed that two Florida counties were hacked by Russian hackers during the 2016 election but it was not made public. However, Link did not confirm if Palm Beach County was one of the affected counties. Voting at the Palm Beach County went on as planned during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

City-focused ransomware attacks (in 2019)

Several Florida state and local government networks were also hit by ransomware in 2019, suggesting gaps in security against third-party hacks and malware infections.

Other state and local government attacks that infected Florida networks in 2019 include:

  • The government network for the city of Stuart
  • The government network for Lake City
  • The government network for Riviera Beach
  • The government network for the city of Pensacola
  • The government network of Palm Springs
  • The network of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office in Fort Pierce
  • ...and several other school districts.

Closing thoughts

In August 2019, DHS officials had planned to launch a program to fortify the security of voter registration databases, fearing possible ransomware attacks affecting the electoral process, as per a Reuters report. A ransomware attack impacting an election process is a major concern for the US government.