July 19, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Outdated software makes even new election systems vulnerable to hackers

The source’s text said there was something “really troubling” to pass along.

Tami Abdollah, Washington national security reporter, had just returned to covering cybersecurity – a topic she has followed off-and-on since 2015. What the source told her was big: New election systems purchased across the United States were running on outdated Windows 7 systems, making them vulnerable to hackers.

It was a great tip, but it required a lot of work to determine the scope of the problem. The result was an exclusive text and video package that received huge play and raised alarm among state and national lawmakers. Abdollah revealed that the vast majority of 10,000 election jurisdictions nationwide use Windows 7 or an older operating system to create ballots, program voting machines, tally votes and report counts.

For combining source reporting with meticulous research to break major news on one of the biggest issues ahead of the 2020 election, Abdollah wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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May 17, 2018

Best of the Week

Russian hackers posed as Islamic State to harass US military wives

The threat over her phone to Army wife Angela Ricketts was terrifying. “Dear Angela!” it said. “Bloody Valentine’s Day!”

“We know everything about you, your husband and your children,” it continued, claiming that Islamic State militants had penetrated her computer. “We’re much closer than you can even imagine.”

More than three years after Ricketts and four other military wives received this and other alarming messages, AP London-based cybersecurity reporter Raphael Satter unraveled the secret behind it all. Satter drew on a massive hit list of Russian hacking targets, focusing on a group of five women whose names were clustered together on the list. All reported having received death threats from a mysterious group calling itself CyberCaliphate back in 2015.

The threats were not from Middle Eastern terrorists at all, but hackers from the Russian group widely dubbed Fancy Bear – the same gang who later broke into the Democratic Party’s emails and interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For revealing the latest wrinkle in the Russian hacking story, Satter earns the Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 10, 2017

Best of the Week

Inside story: How Russia hacked the Democrats’ emails and Putin’s foes

“Hi,” the email from Google began, before turning more ominous. “Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account.” Change your password immediately, it urged, by clicking here. But the email wasn’t actually from Google, and it wasn’t sent randomly. It was from hackers connected to Russia who were targeting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

What eventually emerged from the successful hack – thousands of embarrassing emails from campaign chairman John Podesta and others – was widely reported in the summer and fall of 2016. But the anatomy of how that hack occurred had never been revealed, until now. That investigative story, by Raphael Satter, Justin Myers, Jeff Donn and Chad Day, and a companion piece about wider Russian efforts targeting an array of Kremlin opponents, is this week’s Beat of the Week.

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Nov. 03, 2017

Best of the States

Georgia election server wiped clean – days after lawsuit against officials

Georgia's centralized and aging election system has been the subject of several controversies – most recently in June, when a whistleblower revealed that state contractors had failed to secure an important election server. Hackers could potentially have affected the results of both 2016 races and a special congressional election last June that drew national attention.

The Houston bureau’s Frank Bajak wrote up the initial news of Georgia’s server problem. But that didn't answer the larger question of whether the vulnerable server had actually been hacked, so Bajak developed new sources and kept pressing for more information.

His efforts paid off when a source provided him with an email disclosing that the troubled server had been wiped clean of all data. Even more interesting, this destruction of evidence happened just a few days after a lawsuit was filed seeking a forensic examination of the server in an effort invalidate the state's vulnerable election technology.

For his enterprise and dogged pursuit of the story behind the story, Bajak wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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