Even with the widespread attention and federal protections provided to election systems, state and federal officials alike have concerns that U.S. election systems remain vulnerable to digital meddling. In the final days of the Obama administration, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson formally designated state election assets as U.S. critical infrastructure in response to digital floods of misinformation, as well as Russian cyber espionage on an election software vendor and spear-phishing attempts against local election officials during the lead-up to the November 2016 presidential election. The move allowed state governments to ask DHS for help on a voluntary basis in securing their election infrastructure, but was met with resistance from many state officials and some members of Congress. Amid this resistance — and the current shuffle in DHS leadership — Johnson expressed fear on CBS’s Face the Nation Aug. 6 that voting systems remain vulnerable to digital meddling. “I’m concerned that we are almost as vulnerable, perhaps, now as we were six, nine months ago,” he said.
“The cyber threat is going to get worse before it gets better in this country,” he added. “Bad cyber actors are becoming more aggressive, more ingenuous and more tenacious… Nothing would surprise me at this point in terms of their capabilities.”
… Election Assistance Commission Chairman Thomas Hicks told FCW that as far as improvements to security, the effect of the designation is “still a wait-and-see process.”
“I believe the election itself is secure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do more for that,” he said, adding that doing more “is not going to be a quick fix.”