The personal information of 7.6 million Michigan voters was obtained and posted on a Russian hacker site in an apparent attempt to solicit money from the U.S. government, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Tuesday.
Millions of voters from other key swing states including North Carolina and Florida were also targeted in the dark web database, as well as in Arkansas, Connecticut and thousands of patients at New York’s Brooklyn Center for Surgery.
But Michigan’s Department of State has denied that this was a data breach of any sort, as the information being posted is already publicly available.
“Public voter information in Michigan and elsewhere is accessible to anyone through a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request. Our system has not been hacked,” SOS spokesperson Jake Rollow said in email.
“We encourage all Michigan voters to be wary of attempts to ‘hack’ their minds, however, by questioning the sources of information and advertisements they encounter and seeking out trusted sources, including their local election clerk and our office. If voters suspect misinformation, they should report it to [email protected],” Rollow added.
The official SOS Twitter account also replied to a GQ Magazine correspondent’s tweet about the news earlier Tuesday with the same statement.
— Michigan Department of State (@MichSoS) September 1, 2020
The effort is apparently a bid to swindle money from the U.S. State Department, which since August 5 has offered up to $10 million in exchange for information on foreign election interference through its “Rewards for Justice” program.
According to Kommersant, one hacker claimed on the dark web forum that they had been able to obtain a $4,000 reward from the U.S. State Department.
The personal information posted includes the name, date of birth, gender, date of voter registration, address, postal code, email address, voter identification number and polling station number of voters.
Attorney General Dana Nessel also responded to the reports Tuesday, tweeting that Michiganders should not be scared into not voting.
“Don’t be fooled by misinformation campaigns geared at scaring Michiganders from voting absentee. The system is SAFE and SECURE,” Nessel wrote. “Whoever tells you otherwise doesn’t want you to vote-plain and simple.”
Kommersant reports that the database initially leaked at the end of 2019 and the voter information is current as of March.