Early voting
'I Voted' stickers are seen during early voting at West Charlotte Public Library in Charlotte, North Carolina REUTERS/Chris Keane

The secretary of state for Georgia has accused the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of trying to hack into its voter registration database. The official, called Brian Kemp, has claimed an IP address has linked the attempted breach to the federal government.

In a Facebook post, on 8 December, Kemp said government hackers had tried to breach the firewall that protects the election database housing voter records and corporate information. "I sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson demanding to know why," he wrote.

The attempted hack, which reportedly occurred after the presidential election on 15 November, was uncovered by a third-party cybersecurity firm probing the state of Georgia's election systems. Now, Kemp is demanding answers from his government.

His letter, seen by the Wall Street Journal, said that "at no time" had his office permitted the DHS to conduct any penetration testing on its computer networks. "Your department has not contacted my office since this unsuccessful incident to alert us of any security event," it added.

In response, the DHS said: "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."

Speaking to Atlanta's Channel 2 news outlet, Kemp said he was "mad as hell" about the attempted breach, which his state stressed was unsuccessful. "It's outrageous to think about our own federal government is doing this to us," Kemp said.

He added: "We're demanding answers to some of these questions, you know? Are they doing this to other states? Was it authorised or not? Who ordered this? Why is it being done?"

FBI warns states about 'suspicious activity'

The fear of election-hacking gripped America in the run-up to the presidential election after the US government said state networks and voting systems may be targeted. Following a cyberattack at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) many pointed towards Russia as a likely culprit.

On 30 August, NBC News reported that hackers aligned with the Kremlin were behind a series of attempted intrusions against state voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona. At the same time, a flash alert by the FBI warned other states to be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

By October, after months of deliberation, the US intelligence community had issued a statement publicly accusing "senior-most officials" in Russia of being linked to a series of hacks and leaks targeting political groups. It said the ultimate aim was to influence the result of the election.

At the time, Kemp wasn't so sure. In an interview with Politico, he said the US government was exaggerating the threat of hacking and accused the Obama administration of trying to "subvert the Constitution" in an attempt to federalise elections "under the guise of security."

"Because of the DNC getting hacked — they now think our whole system is on the verge of disaster because some Russian's going to tap into the voting system," he said, adding: "I mean, anything is possible, but it is not probable at all, the way our systems are set up."