Oregon elections director says government seeing 'huge increase' in phishing attempts

KATU file image

Stephen Trout, Oregon's elections director, said Tuesday that employees in his office and other government agencies are seeing a "huge increase" in phishing attempts.

Phishing is when someone sends you an email that looks like it comes from a reputable company or a person you know but is in fact a scam.

Trout said he met with officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Monday who told him the spike in phishing attempts is a problem throughout the U.S. They said more and more phishing scams are targeting people working in 16 critical infrastructure sectors like energy, banks and elections, Trout explained.

He said he's seen the increase himself.

"I probably had one or two phishing emails last year and I’ve probably had 12 to 15 in the last three or four months," he told reporters during a news conference on Tuesday.

Still he said he's confident in the system.

"This election is the most accurate and secure that we’ve ever had in Oregon," Trout said.

He told reporters the state has procedures in place to make sure every vote is counted accurately.

In 2016, Trout said Russian hackers targeted Oregon and 20 other states.

“Really what that was was 21 states that had their systems scanned. There were people going, knocking on the door to see if it was open," Trout explained. “We blocked that. We kept them from gaining access to any of our systems.”

He said since then the state has learned a lot.

“Our systems are much more secure today than they were two years ago," Trout said.

In January of 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declared voting systems to be critical infrastructure meaning more federal money was poured into keeping them secure.

Trout said DHS reviewed Oregon's election system and made multiple recommendations but he wouldn't say what they were.

“They came in as a partner to help us identify areas that we needed to improve and then we have taken action to improve those areas," he explained.

Trout said there are several safeguards in place and that Oregon law requires every county to file a security plan with the state.

"There are no voting systems in Oregon that are connected to the internet," he said. "They’re all secured in a locked room with 24-7 security cameras, although there is one county in the state, it’s a small county and they tally the ballots in the jury room in the courthouse so we made an agreement with them that they didn’t have a security camera in their jury room. But there are cameras showing the entry and the exit there for security purposes.”

Trout would not name the county.

“I would rather not have that info out in the public. I am sure you can understand," he told a KATU reporter via email.

He's confident Oregon's system is so secure in part because he said the state only uses paper ballots, which can easily be recounted. He said voters do not use electronic ballots anywhere in the state.

“One of (Secretary of State Dennis Richardson)'s favorite quotes is, ‘You can’t hack paper,'" Trout said.

In Oregon you can register to vote online and check the status of your vote on a state website if you already cast your ballot.

Trout said there are processes in place to keep that information safe.

To check the status of yours, go to the My Vote page on the website for Oregon's Secretary of State. If you then enter your full name and birthday you can find out what the state has on file as your home address, party affiliation, voter status and when your ballot was received in the most recent election.

Through another link on the site you can also update your registration information if you enter similar data along with a DMV ID number.

"If someone were to get in to the online registration system or into the database again we’d be able to restore and quickly recover and be able to get back to a safe and locked down version," Trout explained.

He said the biggest threat to the election overall is misinformation.

“No matter how secure our election is if we can’t communicate the facts and the truth to the public then we’re gonna have a long battle ahead of us," he said.

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