Regional U.S. election officials attending a hacker conference Friday in Las Vegas said they need more money and training to enhance cybersecurity of their election infrastructure. The thousands of local election officers around the U.S. have neither the cyber-knowledge nor resources to stand up to attacks from adversarial nations and need the support of state and federal governments, they said. But they warned that focusing too much on the vulnerabilities could backfire by undermining citizens’ confidence in the system. “There has never been such a spotlight and emphasis (on election hacking) as there has been since 2016. That is our new reality,’’ California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told an audience attending the annual Defcon computer security conference at Caesars Palace. “If it gets into the mind of anybody that maybe my vote isn’t going to matter, so why should I go vote — that is a form of voter suppression,” he said.
The regional officials gathered Friday to tour a room filled with hackers trying to break into U.S. voting infrastructure. The officials learned more about potential vulnerabilities in current voting equipment and to address what they are doing to strengthen their systems.
The conference comes amid concern that Russia could try to meddle in elections again. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last month warned that Russia was carrying out cyberattacks against the United States. Partially in response, Congress last month authorized $380 million be given to states for election cyberdefense.
“It is not nearly enough to do a technology refresh,’’ Noah Praetz, director of elections in Cook County, Illinois, told a packed room. “(Defense) is a very, very difficult thing to do.’’
Praetz said Illinois is using part of the money it received to pull together a group of cybertech professionals who will work with local election officials to make sure their election systems are secure. There are 108 election officials in Illinois and about 8,880 around the country, Praetz said to emphasize the extent of the help needed.