A ransomware attack may have hit the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office during the 2016 presidential election, it was revealed Wednesday.
The alleged incident was not reported to state or federal officials at the time.
According to elections office employees, the attack created panic and prompted immediate action to isolate or minimize any damage in the office’s server room.
In additions, some employees lost several days of work.
Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link, who was appointed to the position in January of last year, discussed the situation on Wednesday.
She says she only learned about it when the information technology director she inherited from her predecessor, Susan Bucher, left last year and she ended up questioning an office information technology specialist who has since become the IT director.
Bucher denies Link’s claims of a ransomware attack, saying, “I can swear on a stack of Bibles that our county was never ransomwared. It is irresponsible for the supervisor [Link] to scare our voters. We are behind Palm Beach County’s firewall. And she [Link] should know better.”
Link adds that the public should not be concerned about security for the March 17 primary election. She explains, “This happened in 2016. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to light now right before the election because I don’t want voters to be confused, and I don’t want anybody to feel like our current election system is unsafe. Because it’s not.”
Link emphasizes that voters’ personal information was not exposed.
A six-person team from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently conducted an extensive review of the elections office, Link explains. She believes, “if there had been something earth-shattering or glaring, I’m sure they would have alerted us to that before they left.”
Link says the incident happened in September 2016, between the August primary and the November general election. She does not believe that the office paid any ransom.
Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Bucher, who is a registered Democrat, in January 2019. He said at the time that she failed to properly conduct three statewide recounts for the 2018 midterms. Bucher later resigned rather than fighting the suspension in the Republican-controlled Florida Senate.
Link says she immediately contacted the Florida Division of Elections, which was unaware of the incident, and reported it to the FBI. The FBI referred her to the Department of Homeland Security.
She does not believe the ransomware attack is related to the 2016 infiltration of two Florida counties by Russian intelligence agents, which was mentioned in Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling with that election.