DHS has ‘not seen’ successful cyberattack on midterm elections

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it hadn’t observed any successful cyberattacks by foreign adversaries on election systems in the United States during Election Day.

“We’ve not seen, or we’re not aware, of any successful cybersecurity-related compromises of election infrastructure,” a DHS official told reporters on a press call shortly after midnight on Wednesday.

While not having a visible, successful cyberattack on voting systems is a victory for election officials after the Russian interference in 2016, it’s possible that an attack could emerge in the days after the election, or that an adversary could falsely claim it had interfered to try and undermine confidence in the results.

{mosads}Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had made similar comments earlier Tuesday, saying there was “no indication of compromise to our nation’s election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts, or distrust the ability to tally votes.”

Despite no signs of a cyberattack, officials have acknowledged that foreign influence campaigns remain a present threat against U.S. elections: Facebook said late Tuesday that the more than 100 accounts it had pulled on Monday were connected to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm allegedly behind online disinformation campaigns.

Federal officials have been consistently warning about the influence campaigns.

Several intelligence and law enforcement agencies released a joint statement the night before the elections, saying that foreign nations “continue to try to influence public sentiment and voter perceptions through actions intended to sow discord.” And DHS officials reiterated that point to reporters during briefings throughout the day.

Misinformation about elections was also found to have been shared on social media on Election Day, even as tech companies like Facebook and Twitter sought to crack down on the spread of inaccurate or false information. 

The DHS official told reporters during the call early Wednesday that the department will continue to focus on election security even after polls have closed.

DHS will “be back at it tomorrow to identify those things that worked well and those areas that we need to improve upon” when it comes to addressing issues on Election Day, the official said.

The official also said that 45 states had participated in the department’s national situational awareness room — its center for identifying and sharing information about voting issues throughout the day — but declined to say which states were not involved.

Election officials have touted the closer partnerships between states and the federal government on election security, noting that there was minimal communication ahead during the 2016 races.

Chris Krebs, the chief cyber official at DHS, told reporters at a briefing during the day on Tuesday that reported upticks in cyberattacks on election systems were the result of states sharing more information about the attempts to breach the systems, and not a rise in activity itself.

Even if foreign election interference took place during the midterms, it could be weeks before the public learns about it.

Under an executive order signed by President Trump in September, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will have 45 days to determine if any foreign election interference took place.

If the office found that it has, it will then refer the findings to DHS or the Department of Justice, which will have 45 additional days to decide if any punishment is necessary.

Tags Chris Krebs DHS Donald Trump Election Security Elections Kirstjen Nielsen Kirstjen Nielsen Russia
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