DHS will boost coordination and information sharing efforts on election security threats later this month in the run-up to the midterms, a senior agency official said Tuesday. The “heightened operational posture” will take effect Sept. 21, as absentee ballots begin streaming in, Bob Kolasky, director of DHS’s new National Risk Management Center, told reporters after a panel discussion at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in National Harbor, Md. The agency’s Election Task Force “continues to be the hub of DHS election activity,” according to Kolasky. But there will be “enhanced coordination” and “heightened information sharing” among the department’s various agencies and partners, including the Defense Department, 45 days before voters go to the polls, Kolasky explained. He noted that while the increase is in part time-driven, there are no plans “to change the nature of how we work with states in the run-up to the elections.”
National: DHS chief calls on officials in all 50 states to have ‘verifiable’ ballots by 2020 election | The Hill
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Wednesday called on election officials in all 50 states to ensure that ballots used during the 2020 presidential election are able to be audited. Nielsen told a group of reporters touring the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) in Arlington, Va., that she wants “all state and local election officials to make certain that by the 2020 presidential election, every American votes on a verifiable and auditable ballot.” “Our systems must be resilient. We must be able to demonstrate that the votes count and that they are counted correctly,” she added.
With all the concern over cybersecurity heading into the midterm elections, it’s actually quite difficult for outsiders to directly manipulate votes. Unlike corporate networks and email systems, voting machines aren’t connected to the internet, making them hard to access. So as government officials prepare for the hotly contested congressional elections in November, their focus is more on protecting the integrity of the systems that support the pre- and post-voting periods than on the ballots themselves. “This is about more than just voting machines,” Jeanette Manfra, the top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, told CNBC in an interview on Wednesday. “If an [attacker] was intent on sowing discord, how could they do that? It involves us looking at the broad elections administration process.”
National: DHS works to strengthen election security on heels of bipartisan legislation | BiometricUpdate
What one congressional observer called, “a day late and a dollar short,” the bipartisan Prevent Election Hacking Act of 2018 (HR 6188) was recently introduced and referred to the House Committee on House Administration. If passed, it would “direct the Secretary of [the Department of] Homeland Security [DHS] to establish a program to improve election system cybersecurity by facilitating and encouraging assessments by independent technical experts to identify and report election cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and for other purposes.” An industry cybersecurity official said on background to Biometric Update that, “HR 6188’s potentially ground breaking — sorry, overstated deliberately — concept of outsourcing cybersecurity execution to the private sector is something worth looking into.”
Momentum may finally be building in Congress to take new action to secure the elections from cyberthreats as the midterms approach. Lawmakers have struggled to advance election security legislation in the months since they approved a $380 million funding package for states to upgrade their election systems. But a flurry of election-related hearings on Capitol Hill in recent weeks — including a pair of hearings Wednesday that featured testimony from some of the government’s top cybersecurity and election officials — shows they’re sharpening their focus on the issue. And the latest attention could help move bipartisan legislation to combat election cyberthreats closer to the goal line as November nears and intelligence officials warn of ongoing attempts by the Russian government to disrupt the U.S. political system. “The tone has changed so it’s much more forward-looking in terms of, ‘Let’s figure out what we can get done,’ ” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), co-sponsor of Secure Elections Act, which would streamline the way state and federal officials exchange threat information and has garnered broad support in the Senate. “Congress, I think, has realized our role has to focus on what’s in front of us, and that’s protecting the 2018 and 2020 elections from foreign interference.”
Florida election supervisors should take advantage of help from the Department of Homeland Security to make systems more secure, Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson wrote in a letter Monday. “County election boards should not be expected to stand alone against a hostile foreign government,” the lawmakers said in recommending “a wide range of services” from DHS to strengthen security. “We encourage you in the strongest terms to take advantage of those resources, and to let us know about your experience with DHS and FBI.”
National: National labs will probe election tech for vulnerabilities under planned DHS program | CyberScoop
The government is currently planning a cybersecurity program that would allow federally funded national scientific laboratories to privately probe and then document security flaws existing in U.S. election technology, most of which is developed and sold by private companies, according to a senior U.S. official. Rob Karas, director of the National Cybersecurity Assessments and Technical Service team at the Homeland Security Department, said that multiple election technology vendors had already shown an interest in engaging on the effort. Karas declined to name the firms, but said the initiative will begin later this summer. The outreach process is still ongoing.
State and local elections officials preparing for the 2018 elections are strapped for time and resources, but the Department of Homeland Security’s National Protection and Programs Directorate is stepping in to help. Two weeks ago, at the request of the Elections Government Coordinating Council, NPPD released guidance on what states and localities should do with their share of the $382 million from 2018 Help America Vote Act Security Fund, said Matt Masterson, NPPD senior cybersecurity advisor, during a June 12 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. NPPD provided insights on where the money should be used to address risks in the election process. “We focused first on common IT vulnerabilities that exist across elections — things like patching, training for phishing campaigns as well as manpower,” Masterson said.
National: DHS official: States will probably know first if malicious cyber-activity hits primaries | CyberScoop
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.
National: Homeland security chief: I haven’t seen intel that showed Russia favored Trump | The Guardian
Donald Trump’s homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, told reporters on Tuesday she was unaware of intelligence assessments that Russia favored Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. “I do not believe I’ve seen that conclusion that the specific intent was to help President Trump win,” she said. “I’m not aware of that.” Nielsen’s comments stand at odds with the US intelligence community, which concluded in 2017 that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump. Last week, the Senate intelligence committee said it agreed with that assessment. Nielsen was speaking to reporters after briefing House lawmakers on election security efforts.