States are diligently preparing for midterm cyber threats

States are diligently preparing for midterm cyber threats
© Greg Nash

As secretaries of State, we are natural risk managers. Long before cyber threats, we dealt with planning for hazards such as natural disasters, disruptions at polling places and power outages.

Since August 2016, foreign interference in elections has been on the forefront of our minds. The 2016 election cycle highlighted challenges in communication and the importance of information sharing. While no votes were changed in 2016, we know the threat to election integrity remains.

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Secretaries of State across the country, 40 of whom serve as their state’s chief election official, are working hard to safeguard the elections process by working with our information technology teams, private-sector security companies, the National Guard, the federal government, universities and many others. One of our strongest partners in this important mission has been the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

 

When elections were first designated as critical infrastructure in January 2017 by outgoing DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, my colleagues and I opposed the designation. Not because we didn’t think that protecting our elections is imperative, but because we didn’t have a clear understanding of what that designation would mean.

We were concerned DHS and other federal agencies would begin to assert control over a process that is and should remain under the jurisdiction of state and local government.

We believe that our decentralized election system is one of the greatest protections in our democracy. However, the designation remains in place and thus state and local election officials have worked to ensure it is effective.

Thanks to the relationship many of us have developed with DHS, we have tackled the challenges to our election security together.

They have provided support through cybersecurity and physical assessment services, information sharing and educational opportunities to help us make our states’ election infrastructure more resilient than ever.

States have different systems and different needs, but we are all working hard to protect our elections process.

DHS has also worked with state and local officials to create a Government Coordinating Council (GCC), whose membership includes individuals from DHS, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the Election Center and the International Association of Government Officials.

The GCC is the first group of its kind to help important stakeholders share vital information regarding the elections process.

In addition to the GCC, in February, the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) was established. With all 50 states and nearly 1,000 local election offices as members, it serves as the hub of information sharing for election officials.

This free flow of information to election officials across the country helps us manage risk, identify counter measures and amplify security across the community.

As you can imagine, we learned a lot from the 2016 election cycle and that is why it is more important than ever to remain vigilant concerning the threats to our election infrastructure. Staying vigilant means staying aware of the threats while also remaining engaged and proactive in our partnerships.

On Election Day, DHS and the EI-ISAC will be running a centralized information sharing platform to support state and local election officials

The recent appropriation of $380 million in remaining Help America Vote Act funds will help us to enhance our security, update our systems and train our local election officials. We are grateful to Congress for appropriating these funds and to the EAC for disbursing them to all the states so expeditiously.

Beyond the 2018 elections, we will continue to work with federal partners, state, local, and private-sector election entities to promote strong cyber practices, including threat analysis through the EI-ISAC, cyber hygiene scans and phishing campaign assessments. States will supplement these tools with resources of our own that are unique to our needs.

We take the security of our elections process very seriously and we are working diligently to ensure that every defense available is utilized. To use the race analogy we hear often, we are not only in a sprint to November 2018, but we are also in a race with no end in sight.

Jim Condos is the secretary of State for Vermont and the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.