Cyber agency director says election security a top priority ahead of midterms

Jen Easterly, Director of Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, speaks during the Summer meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Christina Almeida Cassidy)

Jen Easterly, the head of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told lawmakers on Thursday that election security is a top priority for her agency, as it anticipates Russian interference in the upcoming midterm elections. 

Easterly, who was testifying before the House Committee on Appropriations on the agency’s budget request, said midterm election security “is obviously one of our top priorities,” adding CISA was focused on guiding states and localities to combat disinformation campaigns — a tactic the Russians are expected to deploy.

“We are here to help and make sure that all state and local election directors have the resources that they need to ensure the integrity of their election security,” Easterly said. 

Easterly was responding to a question from Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.), who asked how the agency plans to defend the integrity of the election given previous attempts from Russians to penetrate voter registration databases and steal personal data.

Easterly explained that she recently brought on board Kim Wyman, the former secretary of state of Washington, to be her senior election head. Wyman has been traveling across the country, including in Arizona and California, and working alongside other elections officials to ensure that they have all the resources they need to secure the election from hacks and disinformation campaigns, Easterly said.

The CISA director added her agency has created a page on its website called the Rumor Control, which enables them to debunk common disinformation narratives. She said the agency instead sends out accurate information regarding the election, including facts about absentee ballots, so that voters “have the information they need to maintain confidence in the integrity of elections.”

Easterly added that she’s also concerned about other types of threats, including potential insider threats and physical threats on both election officials and building facilities. 

Her remarks come at a time where CISA and other federal departments have issued regular guidance and alerts warning the public and companies in critical sectors to remain vigilant against potential Russian cyberattacks as the war in Ukraine escalates, along with economic pressure on Moscow.

Although Russia has not unleashed retaliatory attacks on the U.S thus far., experts and intelligence officials suspect that it could be saving its cyber ammunition for upcoming elections.

Experts note that Russia’s playbook is to divide the U.S. along party lines, sow doubt in elections and suppress voter turnout, largely through social media disinformation campaigns.

“There’s nothing more important for the democracy we live in for Americans to have that sense of confidence,” Easterly added. 

Tags CISA cybersecurity Jen Easterly Jen Easterly Lauren Underwood Russian cyber threats
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