election cybersecurity

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Utah: New threats, new solutions: How Utah’s counties secure elections | Graham Dudley/KSL

Rozan Mitchell would like to clear up one thing: Yes, her office really does look at every signature on returned mail-in ballots and compare them against the signatures on voter registration forms. “People say, ‘Well, you only do a sampling.’ Nope,” Mitchell said, sitting in the Provo headquarters of the Utah County elections office in early September. She is the county’s elections director and, as she’s making clear, she takes that responsibility seriously. “We check the signature on every single one of those ballots that comes through here.” That’s how the county discovers instances where, say, a parent has voted for a missionary serving abroad, or a spouse has voted for someone away on business. “I think people don’t realize the great lengths we go to to do things like that,” Mitchell said. Supervising elections, a function of county clerks and their staff, is a process very much driven by local entities: states, counties and municipalities. The federal government has laws mandating equal access to the ballot box, but it’s up to local governments to decide how to achieve that goal.

Full Article: New threats, new solutions: How Utah's counties secure elections | KSL.com.

Washington: How Washington is fighting back against attempts to hack ballots | Nick Bowman/KIRO

A week ago, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman told KIRO Radio that the state’s election system routinely faces faces tens of thousands of hacking attempts daily. But how exactly is Washington’s system designed to fight those attacks? Wyman stopped in again to detail the various measures in place. “The biggest thing is we moved to the VoteWA system, and so this has enabled us not only to build a stronger firewall, more robust security, and monitoring systems around it, but now … any user that gets into our system, they have to be pre-approved,” Wyman told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. VoteWA is system that was first enacted for August’s primary election, featuring a handful of new security measures to ensure results aren’t altered, hacked, or tampered with in any way. Results from each of the state’s 39 counties are tabulated from paper ballots, and then transferred to an air-gapped machine (i.e. a computer not connected to the internet). The results are then transferred to a flash drive, which is plugged into an internet-enabled computer to transmit the final results.

Full Article: How Washington is fighting back against attempts to hack ballots.

National: Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security | Maggie Miller/The Hill

Democrats are renewing their calls for Senate action on election security measures following the release of a Senate Intelligence Committee report that found the Kremlin directed Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. The party has repeatedly gone after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for imposing obstacles to action on election security, a point underscored once again in the wake of the bipartisan Intelligence report. McConnell was “blocking a full-throated U.S. response” by stopping various election security bills from being brought up in the Senate and burying them “in his legislative graveyard,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) charged in a statement. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a 2020 presidential candidate, called on McConnell to allow votes on election security legislation.

Full Article: Senate Intelligence report triggers new calls for action on election security | TheHill.

National: Bipartisan Senate report calls for sweeping effort to prevent Russian interference in 2020 election | Craig Timberg and Tony Romm/The Washington Post

A bipartisan panel of U.S. senators Tuesday called for sweeping action by Congress, the White House and Silicon Valley to ensure social media sites aren’t used to interfere in the coming presidential election, delivering a sobering assessment about the weaknesses that Russian operatives exploited in the 2016 campaign. The Senate Intelligence Committee, a Republican-led panel that has been investigating foreign electoral interference for more than 2½ years, said in blunt language that Russians worked to damage Democrat Hillary Clinton while bolstering Republican Donald Trump — and made clear that fresh rounds of interference are likely ahead of the 2020 vote. “Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the committee’s chairman. “Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government. By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans.”

Full Article: Senate report calls for sweeping effort to prevent Russian interference in 2020 election - The Washington Post.

National: Cybersecurity and Democracy Collide: Locking Down Elections | Andrew Westrope/Governing

When asked at a congressional hearing if Russia would attack U.S. election systems again in 2020, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was unequivocal: “It wasn’t a single attempt,” he said. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” Presidential campaigns are now underway, and election systems are still vulnerable. From voter registration databases to result-reporting websites to the voting machines themselves, researchers have identified soft spots across the system for hackers to exploit, meaning cybersecurity is now a front line of defense for American democracy. There are many parties working on this problem — secretaries of state, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), EI-ISAC (Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center), various nonprofits and private companies — and a few common refrains between them. They’re all pushing for paper ballots, vulnerability screenings, staff training, contingency plans, audits and, above all, more consistent funding. And they all have the same basic message for state and local officials: The security of our elections is riding on you.

Full Article: Cybersecurity and Democracy Collide: Locking Down Elections.

National: Iranian Hackers Target Trump Campaign as Threats to 2020 Mount | Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger/The New York Times

The 2020 presidential election is still 13 months away, but already Iranians are following in the footsteps of Russia and have begun cyberattacks aimed at disrupting the campaigns. Microsoft said on Friday that Iranian hackers, with apparent backing from the government, had made more than 2,700 attempts to identify the email accounts of current and former United States government officials, journalists covering political campaigns and accounts associated with a presidential campaign. Though the company would not identify the presidential campaign involved, two people with knowledge of the hacking, who were not allowed to discuss it publicly, said it was President Trump’s. In addition to Iran, hackers from Russia and North Korea have started targeting organizations that work closely with presidential candidates, according to security researchers and intelligence officials. “We’ve already seen attacks on several campaigns and believe the volume and intensity of these attacks will only increase as the election cycle advances toward Election Day,” said Oren Falkowitz, the chief executive of the cybersecurity company Area 1, in an interview.

Full Article: Iranian Hackers Target Trump Campaign as Threats to 2020 Mount - The New York Times.

National: Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts | Maggie Miller/The Hill

A recent hacking attempt by Iran targeting a U.S. presidential campaign highlighted the vulnerability of email accounts heading into the 2020 elections. Microsoft revealed last week that it had tracked an Iranian group named “Phosphorus” attempting to access the email accounts of an unnamed presidential campaign, along with accounts tied to journalists and former and current U.S. officials. While the group compromised only four accounts, it identified 2,700 accounts for targeting and attacked 241 of them. The accounts associated with the unnamed presidential campaign, which Reuters identified as the Trump campaign, were not successfully compromised. The Trump campaign told The Hill they had “no indication that any of our campaign infrastructure was targeted.” Tom Kellermann, who served on a presidential cybersecurity commission during the Obama administration, said campaigns should ensure “modern cybersecurity technologies” are being used to insulate endpoints, and that “websites and mobile apps should be tested for vulnerabilities and hardened accordingly.” But even if campaigns take those steps, Kellermann said, rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran could lead to attacks on other aspects of campaigns and elections.

Full Article: Iranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts | TheHill.

Arizona: Secretary of State toughens election rules for cybersecurity | Andrew Oxford/Arizona Republic

Arizona officials are considering tougher cybersecurity standards for the state’s elections ahead of 2020, according to a proposed set of protocols the Secretary of State’s Office published this week. Some of the changes come after The Arizona Republic highlighted concerns about policies included in a first draft of a manual that county officials across the state will use to administer next year’s election. Experts contacted by the newspaper pointed to provisions that did not mandate the use of encryption in some circumstances or would allow officials to re-use USB sticks when working with election systems. The Secretary of State’s Office toughened policies on both of those issues in its final draft of the election procedures manual, published this week. Digital security is just a small piece of the proposed manual, which totals more than 500 pages. But cybersecurity has drawn particular scrutiny amid concerns about meddling in American elections.

Full Article: Arizona Secretary of State toughens election rules for cybersecurity.

Washington: ‘Tens of thousands’ of attempts daily to hack Washington’s election system | Dyer Oxley/MyNorthwest

Washington state’s general election is one month away and aside from making sure the process is ready to run smoothly, Secretary of State Kim Wyman has another concern on her mind — cybersecurity and election hacking. “We have attempts every day,” she told KIRO Radio. “Tens of thousands of attempts to get into our system … right now, we are just blocking all of them.” “Some (hackers) are just trying to see what they can see, ‘what can we get to and what can we play with,’” Wyman said. “And some have bigger chess moves. They are trying to undermine confidence that voters have in our system.”

Full Article: 'Tens of thousands' of attempts daily to hack Washington's election system.

Iran: Cyberattack on US Presidential Campaign Could Be a Sign of Things to Come | Jai Vijayan/Dark Reading

A recently detected Iranian cyberattack targeting a US presidential campaign may well be a harbinger of what’s in store for political parties and election systems in the run-up to next year’s general elections. Last Friday Microsoft disclosed it had observed significant threat activity over the past two months by Phosphorus, a threat group believed linked to the Iranian government. Phosphorus, which is also known as APT25 and Charming Kitten, made over 2,700 attempts to break into specific email accounts belonging to Microsoft customers. In many cases, Phosphorus used information about the targets — including phone numbers and secondary email addresses — to try and infiltrate their email accounts. In the end, Phosphorus attacked 241 targeted email accounts and eventually managed to compromise four of them. In a blog Friday, Microsoft corporate vice president Tom Burt described the targeted accounts as being associated with a US presidential campaign, current and former US government officials, journalists covering politics, and Iranian nationals residing outside the country. The four accounts that were actually breached, however, were not connected to the presidential campaign or to the government officials.

Full Article: Iranian Cyberattack on US Presidential Campaign ....

Editorials: Voting machines pose a greater threat to our elections than foreign agents | Lulu Friesdat/The Hill

As the election security conversation widens beyond Russia, to include countries like Iran and China, it’s important to examine how security flaws in our country’s voting equipment increase the vulnerability of our elections. In 2010 a university cyber team conducted a test attack on an internet voting pilot project in Washington, D.C. The team successfully picked the winner of the election remotely from its Michigan lab. Writing about the attack, computer science professor J. Alex Halderman said, “Within 36 hours of the system going live, our team had … the ability to change votes.” In follow-up testimony, Halderman offered some chilling details: “While we were in control of these systems, we observed other attack attempts originating from computers in Iran and China. These attackers were attempting to guess the same master password that we did. And since it was only four letters long, they would likely have soon succeeded.” Security experts have long warned that short passwords provide easy targets, but hackers at DEF CON, an annual security convention, recently found U.S. election systems with no passwords at all.  How did the security bar get set so low?

Full Article: Voting machines pose a greater threat to our elections than foreign agents | TheHill.

Ohio: House Lawmakers Approve Civilian Cyber Reserve | Jim Provance/Toledo Blade

The Ohio House on Wednesday voted unanimously to create a civilian cyberforce within the Ohio National Guard to respond to cyberattacks against elections systems, governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure. Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R., Bowling Green), now returns to the Senate for consideration of House changes. The bill passed the upper chamber unanimously earlier this year. A city’s mayor could ask the governor to call out the Ohio Cyber Reserve if the city finds itself in over its head in fending off or mitigating a ransomware attack or other cyberintrusion, much as governments can now ask for help after natural disasters. “By their nature, elections are vulnerable to threats both foreign and domestic,” Rep. Doug Green (R., Mt. Orab) said. “Creating the Ohio Cyber Reserve allows for preparedness in mitigating those cyberattacks and ensures Ohio’s voters that their elections are secure and accessible.”

Full Article: Ohio House Lawmakers Approve Civilian Cyber Reserve.

India: Election Commission releases new cybersecurity guidelines | Samaya Dharmaraj/OpenGov Asia

The Election Commission of India (ECI) recently released a document outlining cybersecurity guidelines for the upcoming Assembly elections. All Indian states have received detailed cybersecurity guidelines, which include a special audit of all ICT applications hosted by the chief electoral officer, cyber hygiene for the electoral staff, and detailed application/infrastructure level guidelines. According to the document, ECI has taken several steps to ensure cyber safety for the Lok Sabha (House of the People) Elections. ECI has created clear regulations for cybersecurity and educated its entire electoral staff through several workshops. One of its major initiatives was to revamp old applications, reduce the number of applications, and consolidate them into a few manageable ones. Furthermore, all applications have been built with cybersecurity measures in design by default. The core principles are to reduce the attack surface area, deploy defence-in-depth, and to fix security issues correctly.

Full Article: Indian Election Commission releases new cybersecurity guidelines | OpenGov Asia.

National: Some Voting Machines Still Have Decade-Old Vulnerabilities | Lily Hay Newman/WIRED

In three short years, the Defcon Voting Village has gone from a radical hacking project to a stalwart that surfaces voting machine security issues. This afternoon, its organizers released findings from this year’s event—including urgent vulnerabilities from a decade ago that still plague voting machines currently in use. Voting Village participants have confirmed the persistence of these flaws in previous years as well, along with a raft of new ones. But that makes their continued presence this year all the more alarming, underscoring how slow progress on replacing or repairing vulnerable machines remains. Participants vetted dozens of voting machines at Defcon this year, including a prototype model built on secure, verified hardware through a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program. Today’s report highlights detailed vulnerability findings related to six models of voting machines, most of which are currently in use. That includes the ES&S AutoMARK, used in 28 states in 2018, and Premier/Diebold AccuVote-OS, used in 26 states that same year.

Full Article: Some Voting Machines Still Have Decade-Old Vulnerabilities | WIRED.

National: Hacking 2020 voting systems is a ‘piece of cake’ | Lisa Vaas/Naked Security

It’s still child’s play to pick apart election systems that will be used in the 2020 US presidential election, as ethical hackers did, once again, over the course of two and a half days at the Voting Village corner of the DefCon 27 security conference in August. The results are sobering. This is the third year they’ve been at it, and security is still abysmal. On Thursday, Voting Village organizers went to Capitol Hill to release their findings, in an event attended by election security funding boosters Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Jackie Speier. In a nutshell: in August, hackers easily compromised every single one of the more than 100 machines to which they were given access, many with what they called “trivial attacks” that required “no sophistication or special knowledge on the part of the attacker.” They didn’t get their hands on every flavor of voting system in use in the country, but every one of the machines they compromised is currently certified for use in at least one voting jurisdiction, including direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, electronic poll books, Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs), optical scanners and hybrid systems.

Full Article: Hacking 2020 voting systems is a ‘piece of cake’ – Naked Security.

Illinois: McHenry County officials requesting Board of Elections support during 2020 elections | Drew Zimmerman/Northwest Herald

Over the past few years, McHenry County has been subjected to multiple election errors, including technology failures and incorrect ballots. To ensure these problems don’t crop up in the 2020 primary and general elections – which are shaping up to have record turnouts – McHenry County officials are looking toward the Illinois Board of Elections for assistance to ensure a smooth and accurate process. On Monday, McHenry County Board member Michael Vijuk sent a letter to IBOE Executive Director Steve Sandvoss requesting any support and resources the agency could bring to ensure the entire voting process is secure. “My plea is not one based on a hasty reaction to a comment or two, but to the problems that I have observed as an election judge, McHenry County Board member and citizen of the county,” Vijuk wrote. “The McHenry County Clerk’s Office has had [sobering] problems that may have directly and indirectly deprived the rights of voters in the 2016 election, the 2018 election, and the 2019 consolidated election. My faith has been shaken in the office’s ability to prevail over these deficiencies without your office’s assistance.”

Full Article: McHenry County officials requesting IBOE support during 2020 elections | Northwest Herald.

Michigan: State officials move to secure voting systems ahead of 2020 elections | Quinn Klinefelter/Michigan Radio

Michigan is taking steps to secure the state’s voting systems from potential cyberattacks during the 2020 elections. Federal officials warn that hackers are targeting the upcoming elections — plotting everything from obtaining voter information to spreading disinformation by planting stories online that ballots had been changed. To help combat that, Michigan has hired its first-ever election security specialist. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says it’s just one in a series of moves designed to safeguard the sanctity of the voting booth. “Well, we are far better than other states in that we have optical scan machines. So we have hand-marked paper ballots and our machines, for the most part, are not connected to the Internet or transmitting over the Internet,” says Benson.

Full Article: State officials move to secure voting systems ahead of 2020 elections | Michigan Radio.

Verified Voting Blog: Verified Voting Urges Congress to Pass Comprehensive, Bipartisan Election Security Funding

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, Verified Voting continues to urge Congress to pass comprehensive election security legislation and allocate adequate funding for state and local officials to make critical improvements to our country’s election infrastructure.

Congress is negotiating a spending package for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to allocate funding for states to make much-needed election security upgrades. The House approved a $600 million package in June, while late last week the Senate offered a $250 million amendment. The House and Senate will work to reconcile the final funding amount and spending parameters in a conference committee, and Verified Voting urges Congress to act quickly while crucial election security funding remains on the line. 

In a statement on the Senate’s version last week, Verified Voting President Marian K. Schneider said:

“The additional $250 million in election security funding today is promising, but more is needed to help states upgrade their systems and validate the 2020 election. This amount falls short of the $600 million that passed in the House, which is much closer to meeting the need for proper investment in election security. Congress has the obligation to protect the country from threats to national security and has the opportunity to act on this nonpartisan issue – after all, everyone votes on the same equipment.

National: Russian Secret Weapon Against U.S. 2020 Election Revealed In New Cyberwarfare Report | Zak Doffman/Forbes

The FBI has warned that “the threat” to U.S. election security “from nation-state actors remains a persistent concern,” that it is “working aggressively” to uncover and stop, and the U.S. Director of National Intelligence has appointed an election threats executive, explaining that election security is now “a top priority for the intelligence community—which must bring the strongest level of support to this critical issue.” With this in mind, a new report from cybersecurity powerhouse Check Point makes for sobering reading. “It is unequivocally clear to us,” the firm warns, “that the Russians invested a significant amount of money and effort in the first half of this year to build large-scale espionage capabilities. Given the timing, the unique operational security design, and sheer volume of resource investment seen, Check Point believes we may see such an attack carried out near the 2020 U.S. Elections.” None of which is new—it would be more surprising if there wasn’t an attack of some sort, to some level. What is new, though, is Check Point’s unveiling of the sheer scale of Russia’s cyberattack machine, the way it is organised, the staggering investment required. And the most chilling finding is that Russia has built its ecosystem to ensure resilience, with cost no object. It has formed a fire-walled structure designed to attack in waves. Check Point believes this has been a decade or more in the making and now makes concerted Russian attacks on the U.S. “almost impossible” to defend against. The new research was conducted by Check Point in conjunction with Intezer—a specialist in Genetic Malware Analysis. It was led by Itay Cohen and Omri Ben Bassat, and has taken a deep dive to get “a broader perspective” of Russia’s threat ecosystem. “The fog behind these complicated operations made us realize that while we know a lot about single actors,” the team explains, “we are short of seeing a whole ecosystem.”

Full Article: Russian Secret Weapon Against U.S. 2020 Election Revealed In New Cyberwarfare Report.

National: After Resisting, McConnell and Senate G.O.P. Back Election Security Funding | Carl Hulse/The New York Times

Facing mounting criticism for blocking proposals to bolster election security, Senator Mitch McConnell on Thursday threw his weight behind a new infusion of $250 million to help states guard against outside interference in the 2020 voting. Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, has been under regular attack from both Democrats and a conservative group for refusing to allow the Senate to vote on various election security proposals, some of them bipartisan, despite dire warnings from the intelligence community that Russia is already trying to replicate the elaborate meddling campaign it carried out during the 2016 presidential contest. The additional funding, Mr. McConnell said in announcing his support, “will bring our total allocation for election security — listen to this — to more than $600 million since fiscal 2018.” The money was quickly approved by the Appropriations Committee later Thursday. Though Mr. McConnell has embraced other seemingly derogatory nicknames over the years, he was incensed at being called “Moscow Mitch” by those who claimed his opposition showed he was willing to accept foreign election interference because it had benefited his own party by helping to elect President Trump, despite the senator’s long record of taking a hard line against Russia.

Full Article: After Resisting, McConnell and Senate G.O.P. Back Election Security Funding - The New York Times.