Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a stern warning to Russia and other countries looking to meddle in future U.S. elections, saying that the U.S. government will consider all options “seen and unseen” for responding to malicious attacks in cyberspace. “The United States, as you know, possesses a spectrum of response options both seen and unseen, and we will use them to call out malign behavior, punish it and deter future cyber hostility,” Nielsen said in keynote remarks at the RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. “Our cyber defenses help guard our very democracy and all we hold dear. To those who would try to attack our democracy to affect our elections, to affect the elections of our allies, to undermine our national sovereignty, I have a simple word of warning: Don’t,” Nielsen said.
Homeland Security officials last year disclosed that Russia tried to hack into voting systems in 21 states before the 2016 presidential election, as part of a broader effort to interfere in the vote. The revelation has spurred concerns that Russia or other nations would look to meddle in future votes, including the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
The activity prompted the Obama administration to designate election systems as “critical infrastructure” and open it up to voluntary federal protections, a move that initially prompted criticism from state officials who feared federal takeover. The Trump administration has kept the designation in place.