A top cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security says the biggest election security challenge going into the midterms isn’t a technical one. It’s convincing voters that their ballots are secure. “To me the No. 1 threat is around public confidence in the process,” said Matt Masterson, who coordinates a range of DHS election security efforts as senior cybersecurity adviser within the department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate. “How are we talking about this? How are we educating the public so they have confidence in the process and will show up and vote? Because the best response to any attempts to undermine confidence in the process is to vote.” Now that voters know that nation-states such as Russia want to disrupt U.S. elections, it’s going to take a continuous effort from DHS and other government agencies at all levels to make sure they keep turning out at the polls, Masterson told me in a recent interview in his office in Arlington, Va. And that won’t go away come November. “Security is not an end goal,” he said. “You don’t reach a point where you say, okay, now we’re secure. It’s an evolving process.”
This is DHS’s new reality. Russia’s interference in the 2016 election set off a sea change at the agency, which previously played little to no role in election security but now offers state election systems the same protections it provides power plants and emergency services.
Masterson says DHS has embraced its new responsibilities, working with state election officials to share cyberthreat information and offering technical services to bolster election security. But there is always more to do.
“Threats and risks evolve constantly,” Masterson said. “And so I think all of us at all levels need to do better in ensuring that election officials have a constant supply of resources — money, information services, whatever the case may be — so they can continue to evolve and improve with the threat.”