The Department of Homeland Security is on standby to alert state officials about any malicious cyber-activity during Tuesday’s primary elections, but the states themselves will likely know first if something is amiss, Matthew Masterson, a senior cybersecurity adviser at DHS, told CyberScoop. With voters going to the polls in eight states, Tuesday’s primaries are a chance for DHS to test the communication protocols it has sought to ingrain in election personnel across the country. State officials, who generally have the best views of their networks, will flag potentially malicious activity for DHS, which can in turn alert other states, according to Masterson. “If we see or have information to suggest something is going on, we have the ability to immediately share it with the states,” he said in an interview. Ahead of the midterm elections, DHS has looked to “ramp up” its cyberthreat reports to state officials to get them information that is easily understood and not overly technical, Masterson added.
In advance of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Russian hackers probed IT networks in 21 states, according to DHS. However, Jeanette Manfra, the department’s top cybersecurity official, told lawmakers in April that the department had yet to detect Russian cyber-activity on state systems ahead of the 2018 midterms.
Masterson, who headed the Election Assistance Commission for three years before joining DHS this spring, said that assessment hasn’t changed.
“I am not aware of any specific attacks … against election infrastructure from the Russian government or any nation-state actor,” Masterson said. DHS nonetheless expects election systems, which the department designated as critical infrastructure in 2017, to continue to be a target for hackers, he added.