Georgia Sec. of State wants answers from DHS after apparent breach attempt

ATLANTA — The Georgia Secretary of State is demanding answers from the Department of Homeland Security after an unsuccessful breach to the department’s firewall.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp talked exclusively with Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant on Thursday, saying he was “mad as hell” after what he called a massive cyberattack on the agency's network Nov. 15, traced back to a United States Department of Homeland Security IP address.

"It's outrageous to think about our own federal government is doing this to us," Kemp told Diamant.


Kemp's office maintains Georgia’s voter registration and elections data, plus corporate and professional license records.

Kemp told Diamant that the network's firewall held up and there was no breech. But after the agency's security vendor sounded the alarm, Kemp fired off a terse letter Thursday to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.

"We're demanding answers to some of these questions, you know? Are they doing this to other states? Was it authorized or not? Who ordered this? Why is it being done and why weren't we notified?" Kemp said.

Diamant used Skype to contact former FBI and Department of Defense cybersecurity analyst Willis McDonald on Thursday to get his take on the situation.

"It would actually be inconceivable to think that the federal government would start attempting to break into a state agency without any coordination," McDonald told Diamant.

The Roswell-based consultant told Diamant the most-likely scenario is that a hacker spoofed a DHS IP address.

"It's fairly easy. It's fairly common to see something like that happening," McDonald said.

But until DHS responds, Kemp said he is not yet convinced this wasn't a politically motivated attack ordered by DHS leaders or a single rogue staffer.

"We're waiting on answers, you know? Hopefully we'll get them, hopefully they'll be transparent, and they'll be some good answers that we can digest. But right now, we just don't know," Kemp said.

Kemp assured Diamant that the cyberattack, government or otherwise, was not successful.

A DHS representative emailed Diamant a statement saying:

"The Department of Homeland Security has received Secretary Kemp's letter. We are looking into the matter. DHS takes the trust of our public and private sector partners seriously, and we will respond to Secretary Kemp directly."