Russian hack attempt on Dallas County computers never happened

Investigates: Russian hack attempt likely never happened

DALLAS - NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

Earlier this summer, Dallas gained national attention when county officials claimed Russians tried to hack their voter registration rolls.

Tried but failed.

It was national news when the story broke last June. It was news again when the story re-surfaced on a network newscast just days ago. But emails obtained by WFAA indicate that the information coming from Dallas County officials and circulating around the country was wrong.

The headlines stem from an FBI visit to Dallas County officials in the fall of 2016, prior to the November presidential election.

Agents armed with a list of suspected Russian hackers that may have tried to penetrate Dallas County voter rolls.

For months, there was no word from county officials as to what became of that information, until this past June.   

Then, suddenly, the story of a Russian hack attempt was confirmed to the entire North Texas media.

The confirmation was coming from Dallas County elections administrator Toni-Pippins Poole. Pippins-Poole told the news media that her IT department confirmed 17 attempts by Russians to hack into the Dallas County voter rolls.

It quickly became national news then and again just days ago on MSNBC.

But WFAA has obtained internal Dallas County emails indicating the Russian hack attempt likely never happened.

The initial news reports of the alleged Russian hack attempt apparently caught Dallas County chief onformation officer Stanley Victrum by surprise. At 1:30 p.m. on June 13 Victrum contacted Pippins-Poole.

"To our knowledge, there have been no such subject attempts," Victrum said.

"Can you share your insights on what Ms. Toni is referring?" he asked two hours later in an email to his staff. "To our knowledge we haven't been hacked."

Yet the next day, June 14, Pippins-Poole repeated and confirmed the 17 hack attempts to the Dallas media outlets.

Later that day, Victrum stood his ground in another email. This time with Dallas County chief administrator Darryl Martin.

"We don't have specific indications at this time that Russian hackers ... those 17 Russian IP addresses in question ... were attempting to hack the County Elections systems, especially since we, for all intents and purposes, block IP addresses from Russia," Victrum said.

The next day, after further review, another email, this time from a county computer engineer who sent an email to representatives of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office.

"IT security has nothing to support the claims by the elections department," the engineer said.

Pippins-Poole has declined an on-camera interview but by phone appeared to be backing off her claim from last June.

"I don't know how there is absolute proof that [the Russians] were the ones trying to get in," Pippins Poole said. "We really can't say."

Pippins-Poole then directed us to Victrum, who confirmed no Russian hacking attempt had been detected.

"To my knowledge there's no evidence that occurred," he said.

Victrum said it's not uncommon for hackers, foreign and domestic, to try to penetrate the county's computers, specifically their "most wanted" website.

But again, Victrum says protections put in place by his workers last year specifically block and would prevent any hacking attempts from any Russian IP addresses.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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