Thirty-three states and 11 county and local election agencies have sought help from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to shore up their voting infrastructure against cyberattacks, according to the agency.
The department urged other states to take advantage of its services — such as scanning internet-facing systems to identify vulnerabilities — noting that less than 30 days remain until Election Day.
“Time is a factor,” the agency wrote in a notice sent late Monday. “It can take up to two weeks from the time we receive authorization to run the scans and identify vulnerabilities. It can then take at least an additional week for state and local election officials to mitigate any vulnerabilities on systems that we may find.”
The alert comes amidst heightened fears that the Russian government is attempting to interfere in the U.S. election.
On Friday, the DHS together with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence formally attributed the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other political organizations to Russia but said they were not ready to pin recent probing of state election systems to the Russians.
Some states have resisted accepting help from the agency, which is weighing whether to designate election systems as critical infrastructure.
Opponents say it amounts to a federal takeover of what has traditionally been a local process, and the proposal has drawn some pushback from congressional leaders.
Accepting assistance "does not entail federal regulation or binding federal directives of any kind, and we would oppose any efforts of the federal government to exercise any degree of control over the states' administration of elections by designating systems as critical infrastructure," wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a letter urging states to take DHS up on its offer.
The agency currently offers voluntary help and has emphasized that it does not intend to declare elections critical infrastructure during this election cycle — but officials have left the door open to that possibility in the future.