Photo cred: Facebook.com/djryanmorales
Ryan Morales, a Democratic candidate who's running for a Florida House seat that covers much of Lake County, claimed in a Facebook post Friday morning that his campaign website had been accessed by Russian hackers.
Morales, who's challenging Republican incumbent state Rep. Anthony Sabatini in HD 32, tells Orlando Weekly
that he woke up this morning to an email that said his website had an intruder. He learned soon after that the hacker had registered as an administrator on the site, too.
"Which is impossible," says Morales, who's worked as a web designer for more than two decades. "My security doesn't allow for that."
The hacker changed some coding in the website's back end, which blocked Morales. He says another website he manages was also tampered with.
No personal information was accessed, he says.
Morales says the hacker's email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – and IP address were traced back to Russia by both him and his host platform WP Engine. Yandex, per their website, is a Russia-based company that specializes in internet-related products and services, including search and information services, navigation and online advertising, among others.
"I don't know if they were just trying to shut me down or whatever they were trying to do," Morales says. "But they were messing with me."
It's unclear why exactly hackers would target a Democratic candidate for state office in what's historically been a reliably Republican district.
Morales speculates that it might have been due to some attention he's recently received after he was profiled on the website Florida Politics
He says he's reached out to the Florida Democratic Party to alert officials and is in the process of contacting the FBI on the matter.
has reached out to the FDP for comment.
"It's really important because we already know there was an issue with the Russians hacking the election here in Florida," Morales says, noting that the public has yet to learn which two county election systems the FBI claims were tampered with in 2016
Morales adds: "For me, it was a lesson learned, too – just making sure that everything is updated so that way this doesn't happen again."
Asked why he thinks he would be a target of Russian interference, Morales can only speculate.
"I guess [Sabatini] fulfills more of [the Kremlin's] agenda versus what I would bring to the table," he says. "So, you know, I'm clearly seen as a target and as an opponent."
Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, had photos surface of him in both black- and brown-face
earlier this year.
Earlier this month members of the Florida congressional delegation, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, and Gov. Ron DeSantis all were separately briefed by the FBI on which two counties in Florida were hacked in 2016.
Though the FBI maintains there was no evidence that votes or voters' information were altered in the interference, the elected officials were each forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement following the briefing.
The Washington Post
previously reported Washington County in the Florida Panhandle as one of the counties hacked in 2016.
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