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DHS official: Russia penetrated 2016 voter databases, already trying to meddle in midterm elections

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The head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security said Russians penetrated U.S. voter registration rolls before the 2016 presidential election. (Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

An official at the Department of Homeland Security revealed recently that Russia successfully penetrated some local and state voter registration databases before the 2016 presidential election.

It's been known that hackers attempted to break into the databases, but new information reveals that they targeted 21 states and were successful at penetrating "an exceptionally small number of them," Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at DHS, told NBC News.

Manfra didn't reveal further details about the attacks, citing classified information, so it's unclear what information was accessed.

Now, U.S. officials are warning that Russian operatives have already begun attempting to meddle in the midterm elections.

Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said, "2016 was a wake-up call and now it's incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again."

A National Intelligence report issued last year, which revealed that Russia has a longstanding history of meddling in U.S. presidential elections, showed that the Russian attacks did not alter the 2016 vote count.

Is the U.S. ready to stop interference from foreign governments?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Fox News that if the Russians want to interfere, they will find ways to do it and it's tough to prevent it.

“The point is, if it's their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that," he told Fox News. "We can take steps, but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it's very difficult to pre-empt it."

Tillerson said it's imperative to be alert and pay attention to what's happening.

“It's important we just continue to say to Russia, ‘Look, you think we don't see what you're doing. We do see it, and you need to stop. If you don't, you're going to just continue to invite consequences for yourself,’ " he added.

Is the CIA concerned about Russian meddling in the upcoming elections?

"Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that, but I'm confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election [and] that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won't be great." CIA Director Mike Pompeo told BBC News last week.

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