The Department of Homeland Security’s top cyber official said Wednesday that he will focus on ensuring election officials are using basic cybersecurity techniques to counter cyber threats to the 2020 presidential election.
Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), testified before the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on homeland security that his agency’s new “Protect 2020” initiative will focus on making sure that state and local officials are prepared for the upcoming presidential election.
He said that the project will focus on “broadening the reach and depth of assistance to state and local officials,” on top of emphasizing the need to audit elections, patch vulnerabilities in election systems and develop cybersecurity priorities for state and local election officials.
Krebs testified that existing election systems can be too "mature" to use cutting-edge technology that could be used to guard elections.
“It’s really hitting the basics hard,” he added.
The cyber official also said that he is currently working on creating a longterm, sustainable staff at CISA that can focus on election security issues, but would also be able to shift to work on other threats if needed, like cyberattacks on the electric grid.
And Krebs said that working on election security ahead of the 2018 midterm elections gave him the chance to establish stronger relationships with other agencies.
“So not only are we better for elections, we’re better for every critical infrastructure sector,” he said.
He also told lawmakers that he and other officials are watching election interference that is taking place in other nations to “try to get ahead of what the bad guys are doing.”
Hackers from countries like Russia are known to first test out their tactics in other countries like Ukraine, where they may not face many consequences for their actions, before moving onto more high-profile targets in the Western Hemisphere.
Krebs said he will travel to Europe in April, partly to learn about the threats facing elections there.
“2020, what are they going to do?” Krebs asked of actors like Russia, which interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“I don’t know yet,” he continued, but said that if actions are “spotted over there” it could give the U.S. a heads up on what to expect in the next election.
But one thing that Krebs did say he expected to see in the 2020 election: Russian activity.
“I would be disappointed in them if they didn’t try again in 2020,” Krebs said jokingly.