New report: Obama had “back door” message channel to Russia

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According to a new report, Russia’s penetration into U.S. election software systems and voter databases before the 2016 presidential election was much more widespread than previously reported.

The Bloomberg report, released early Tuesday morning, also provides details on a back-door messaging channel between Washington and Moscow, called a “cyber red phone,” which the Obama administration implemented and used to pass urgent communications to Russia.

First announced in 2011, the cyber red phone was not really a phone, but a secure system for transferring messages and documents over fiber-optic lines, to defuse a possible cyber conflict, Bloomberg reported.

Although Russian officials have denied any connection to cyber attacks of the U.S. election systems, U.S. investigators have reportedly found evidence that Russian hackers targeted the election systems in 39 states during the summer and fall of 2016.

Two sources have reported that in October, the Obama administration contacted the Russian government through the “red phone” back-channel, notifying them of the hacks and warning that it risked “setting off a broader conflict.”

The Obama administration reportedly provided evidence on Russia’s hacking efforts, and Russia reponded by asking for more information and assuring they would look into the matter, but the hacking still continued.

The state of Illinois had detected unauthorized data leaving their network in early July 2016, reporting the hackers had gained access to the state’s voter database, compromising as many as 90,000 records. However, an election official said it still would have been impossible for the hack to affect the election, since data is uploaded from the counties to the state, but no data is moved from the state back to the counties, where the voting actually occurs.

Bloomberg reported that just days before the Nov. 8, 2016 election, Russian hackers were trying to take over the computer of up to 122 local election officials.

The report states that, despite all the hacking attempts, the Russians did not end up disrupting the voting process.

“Last year, as we detected intrusions into websites managed by election officials around the country, the administration worked relentlessly to protect our election infrastructure,” said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for former President Barack Obama. “Given that our election systems are so decentralized, that effort meant working with Democratic and Republican election administrators from all across the country to bolster their cyber defenses.”

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