Unexpected Russian Traffic Spike in Wisconsin Raises Eyebrows

Was Someone Testing Hackability?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Officials in a tiny county in Northern Wisconsin have noticed a very strange pattern of Internet traffic coming into their servers coming from Russia and its former republic, Kyrgyzstan. The visits and the timing raise the possibility that an attempt was afoot to seek ways into voting systems.

Wisconsin is one of the states where Donald Trump experienced an unexpected victory on November 8. Federal officials are alleging that Russian hackers took an interest in the election and appear to have selectively hacked and leaked information harmful to Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton — though no hard evidence has emerged of hacks directly related to vote counts.

Servers in Bayfield County and in the city of Ashland (which straddles Bayfield and Ashland counties) are mystified by the spike in traffic, which began on March 15. “It has been pretty much sustained from March on, all the way through the election period,” cyber security consultant EricEllason told the Ashland Daily Press.  

The traffic from Eastern Europe was 20 to 30 times higher than might be expected. The hits from the tiny, remote Kyrgyzstan began at the same time as the Russian visits. No comparable traffic came from other countries, including large countries that might reasonably be assumed to have a comparable interest in the county, were the county to be noticeably in the public eye at that time  which it was not.

The potential probing was discovered by Ellason, who does contract work for the city of Ashland. When he asked if others had a similar experience, it turned out that Bayfield County (total population approximately 15,000) had as well.

The spike involved approximately 20 to 30 different users — and has continued beyond the election.

Paul Houck, Bayfield County’s director of information technology, had previously noticed a spike from China.

The surge from Russia and Kyrgyzstan also hit the website of the Chamber of Commerce of Madeline Island, a tiny spot in Lake Superior that is also in Bayfield County.

Whether this was a deliberate attempt to test the security of government and government-related sites — and possibly connected to efforts to influence the election — is not clear thus far.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from wires (M4D GROUP / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

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