The Homeland Security Department is actually surging its efforts to protect elections against foreign hackers during the two years leading up to the 2020 elections — not winding them down, the agency’s top cybersecurity official insists. Chris Krebs, who leads DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, was punching back Thursday against a Daily Beast report citing anonymous staffers who said the department was reducing its election security efforts following the midterms to invest more in border security and other Trump administration priorities. “The department’s election security and countering foreign influence security-related efforts are not going anywhere,” Krebs said. “In fact, we’re doubling down.” The article made waves in the security community because even a perception that the government isn’t serious about securing elections against Russian hackers could damage trust in the result in the 2020 election. Federal officials — including Krebs himself — have warned Russia may have viewed the midterms as merely a “warm-up” for 2020 when more Americans will be looking for signs of foreign influence. That stakes for officials such as Krebs are especially high because President Trump has wavered on whether he believes Russia was responsible for its hacking and disinformation campaign to influence the 2016 presidential contest.
But DHS will be devoting more money to election security in 2019 than it did last year — and there will be more CISA employees protecting election systems in 2020 than there were during the midterms, Krebs told reporters during a media call responding to the Daily Beast article. Krebs acknowledged some election security workers are leaving the agency, as the Beast reported, but said they were temporary detailees from other parts of DHS who are being replaced by permanent election security specialists.
Krebs pointed to the compromise budget bill passed by Congress on Thursday, which provides $33 million for election security. That’s a boost from $26 million for election security in 2018. Trump is expected to sign the bill today to avoid another government shutdown.