On today's BradCast, we've got an exclusive interview with CHRIS VICKERY, Director of Cyber Risk Research at the cyber security firm UpGuard. Vickery revealed late last week on Twitter that he discovered files, including administrative master passwords for voting systems, at the North Carolina State Board of Elections website that were left vulnerable and available online for anyone to download, prior to the 2018 election. Today he explains the evidence that suggests these files may have been available as early as February of 2016, months before that year's controversial Presidential election. [Audio link to full show is posted at bottom of article.]
The files were found by Vickery unencrypted and with no password needed to retrieve them from the site. He tells me today that there were so many files and screenshots (see a redacted snippet from one of the password screenshots in the graphic above), that he's not even sure if they number in the hundreds or thousands.
The longtime cyber security researcher says he promptly notified state officials of the discovery last year, before the 2018 elections, and that the state, shortly thereafter, set the files in question and their directories to "private". In response to a commenter on his short Twitter thread revealing the potential security breech late last Friday, however, he notes that "someone would have had to actively choose to make the file repository available to the entire world. It is not unprotected by default."
He tells me today that he is "very concerned" about the exposure and would "like to know who the data was intended for. If you put it up somewhere, you're intending it to be accessed by somebody. So who did they aim this for? I would love to know that." Indeed, he also shared an email with me over the weekend that was posted in the same directory as the passwords screenshot, in which a State Board of Elections official notes: "The attached screen shots should show just about all of the settings you will need for contests and candidates" in the ES&S iVotronic Image Management program, part of the computer voting system which defines where candidates selected by voters are placed on the electronic ballots and optical-scan systems.
Vickery says he decided to go public with the disclosure following the Washington Post exclusive last week reporting that federal investigators at the Dept. of Homeland Security have finally agreed to work with NC on a forensic investigation of the state's voter registration computers which inexplicably failed during the 2016 Presidential Election, on Election Day, in parts of the state. That announcement via the Post comes on the heels of Robert Mueller's redacted report [PDF] (see Volume 2, page 50, "Intrusions Targeting the Administration of U.S. Elections"), in which the Special Counsel briefly details how Russian Military Intelligence operatives were able to penetrate the voter registration systems of "at least one" county in Florida. Just over a week ago, the new Republican Governor of Florida announced he was notified by the FBI that, in fact, two counties had, in fact, been penetrated via a spearphishing attack on VR Systems, the private vendor contracted to run those voter registration systems.
VR Systems also supplies similar systems in about half a dozen other U.S. states, one of them being North Carolina. But, as Vickery notes, the password files that he found exposed on the Internet last year were not for registration systems, but for the state's computer voting machines, scanners and tabulation systems made by private vendor ES&S (the nation's largest), as used across most of the state of North Carolina. And ALL of this comes after we have been trying to point out on The BradCast for the last two and a half years that nobody --- not the FBI, not DHS, not the states themselves, nor even Mueller's Special Counsel team, as he admits --- ever carried out a forensic investigation of the computer voting, registration or tabulation systems in use in any of the states in 2016, despite that election's surprise ending in which Donald Trump purportedly won by a razor thin margin.
In his first broadcast interview on these new revelations, Vickery explains how he discovered the files, how the state responded when he told them about the vulnerability last year, whether the DHS has contacted him since he revealed his findings on Friday, and how serious of a potential security breech this is, especially given the extraordinary effort that the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Mueller Report claim Russia expended in hopes of interfering in the 2016 Presidential election. "When you have computers, and software, and firmware updating passwords and modems all mixed in together, you have the capability to do a lot of crazy stuff," he says, in response to my question about whether these passwords could have been used to alter or upload false results. "It's not out of the realm of possibility, but I have no specific reason to believe that happened. But that is kind of a frightening concept to realize that all of the ingredients are there."
Disturbingly, Vickery's report is startlingly similar to one revealed last year by Kim Zetter at Politico in the state of Georgia, regarding a security researcher who found millions of voter registrations along with voting system administrative passwords online and vulnerable to download without a password, prior to the Peach State's 2016 elections.
Also today: The last many weeks of climate changed-fueled weather disasters move from the Central U.S. to the SouthEast, with a month's worth of rain falling in one day over this past weekend (yet the DNC still won't allow a 2020 Presidential candidate debate focused solely on climate change!); Donald Trump pretends that his backing off of a threat to tax Americans who purchase imported goods from Mexico is a great negotiation victory; And we take a few calls on our disturbing interview with Vickery, including from one listener who quips that NC "left the combination of the safe written on top of the door"...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)