DHS offers states help with voting systems security
- By Mark Rockwell
- Aug 17, 2016
Following repeated hacks of Democratic National Committee by attackers who have been linked by multiple cybersecurity experts to Russian government interests, the Department of Homeland Security is considering classifying the U.S. election systems as part of the nation's critical infrastructure, much like the power grid, communications and financial services sectors. Such a move would bring voting systems, which are run mostly by state and local governments, under DHS' cyber protection umbrella.
In the meantime, DHS has kicked off a campaign to raise awareness of its cyber resources for states.
In an Aug. 15 conference call with members of state government organizations and other chief election officials to talk about the election infrastructure, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said his agency was opening a Voting Infrastructure Cybersecurity Action Campaign. The initiative, he said, taps experts from the private and government sectors to get the word out on possible cybersecurity risks for voting infrastructure and processes.
The conference call was a key part of advertising the department's assistance capabilities, a DHS official said.Johnson also reminded state officials that federal agencies are available now to help gird election systems against cyberattack. The DHS National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center will conduct vulnerability scans and provide actionable information as well as access to other tools and resources to help with election system cybersecurity on request.
He also advised state officials to heed recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission that electronic voting machines not be connected to the internet while voting is underway.
It was the first time DHS has convened a discussion on election security, state officials who were on the call told FCW, a sister site to GCN. They said the call was productive, with the agency not only providing its advice to states for voting system cybersecurity, but with states telling DHS about their precautions in a contentious election cycle.
"The states feel, for the most part, that they're in good shape" cybersecurity-wise, as most have made sure their systems are self-contained and not internet-facing, said one representative who agreed to speak on background.
Johnson had said in early August that DHS must "carefully consider whether our election system is critical infrastructure, like the financial system or the power grid. There is a vital national interest in our election process."
On the call, Johnson reiterated the agency was still mulling the idea of considering voting systems as critical infrastructure, adding that DHS officials are not aware of specific or credible cybersecurity threats to systems supporting the upcoming general election. He added, however, that the situation could change quickly.
States, the call participant told FCW, are still unsure of the full implications a critical infrastructure designation and how it might affect their operations. State officials on the call asked DHS for more detail on potential effects as the election quickly approaches, with early voting in some states beginning in September.
This article was first posted on FCW, a sister site to GCN.
Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.
Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.
Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.
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