A software sensor with a knack for detecting intrusions like those from Russian hackers is being embraced by U.S. states determined to protect their election systems, though cybersecurity experts warn of the tool’s limits. The Department of Homeland Security is working with a growing number of state election officials to install “Albert sensors,” which detect traffic coming into and out of a computer network. The system can’t block a suspected attack, but it funnels suspicious information to a federal-state information-sharing center near Albany, New York, that’s intended to help identify malign behavior and alert states quickly. “Every sensor we’re able to add is another in what was previously a dark spot” that federal authorities “couldn’t see into,” said Brian Calkin, vice president of operations for the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, the Homeland Security-funded group that created the sensor in 2010 and upgraded it in 2014.
The sensors — modeled after a system used to protect federal government networks that’s named after scientist Albert Einstein — are now installed in 29 states, according to a Homeland Security official. But experts caution that they’re not deployed to most of the 9,000 local jurisdictions where votes are actually cast, and sophisticated hackers can sneak past the sensors undetected.
With congressional primaries already underway, and elections planned next month in almost two dozen states including California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Iowa, administration critics say not enough has been done to harden the U.S. election infrastructure against attacks like those seen in 2016.
Intelligence agencies have warned Russia is likely to try to interfere in U.S. elections again this year. The Trump administration has sought to assure lawmakers that it’s working with states to beef up election security, and Homeland Security leaders officials often tout the Albert sensor as a sign of how they’re buttressing states.