Two years ago, Rob Silvers arrived at a nondescript federal building in the Virginia suburbs of Washington on election day, afraid America was about to be hit by a catastrophic cyberattack. An alleged Russian operation to hack Democratic emails and peddle divisive disinformation was months in the making; election systems across the country had been probed by suspected Russian hackers; and one state—Illinois—had seen its voter registration database breached. “There was no playbook,” said Mr. Silvers, then a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, now a partner at the law firm Paul Hastings. “We were writing the playbook as we were executing it.“ His worst fears never materialized, but Russia’s alleged actions convinced officials that cybersecurity would be a critical aspect of any future election. This year, voters will be casting ballots in what experts say will be the most secure U.S. election since the birth of the internet, thanks to steps taken since 2016. “States all across the country are more prepared,” said Wayne Williams, the Republican secretary of state of Colorado, who has been among the most active in adopting electoral cybersecurity measures.
DHS is leading the effort on protecting voting machines, providing states with more election security services after the 2016 election. The FBI has been focused on combating foreign interference on social media. Both efforts have received support from U.S. intelligence agencies.
In many states, election officials have spent the past two years hiring technology experts, establishing cybersecurity training for poll workers, enrolling in free DHS computer vulnerability scans and, in some cases, purchasing new voting equipment with paper-ballot backups that can be audited in the event of cyber mischief.
A DHS-funded group that was formed last February to share cybersecurity information among election officials and federal partners boasts participation from all 50 states and over 1,300 local officials. It didn’t exist in 2016.