Cybersecurity

Federal official says voting security remains strong as polls begin to close

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A senior official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Tuesday night that potential cybersecurity concerns have remained low over the course of Election Day, as polls on the East Coast begin to close.

“We’ve been at cruising altitude for a while now, and things have been fairly quiet across the county, but we are not going to let our guard down, we are coming in for landing,” the official, who works for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), told reporters during a press call.

The official warned that despite the fairly quiet security outlook, potential threats remain in the form of disinformation, Distributed-Denial-of-Service attacks, overwhelmed vote reporting systems and website defacements.

“Polls are closing, and it’s creating a whole new attack surface,” the official said. 

Federal agencies have been monitoring election security throughout Election Day, with CISA setting up a 24/7 virtual war room to help facilitate communications between election officials at all levels on potential threats.

“Through the situational awareness room, through the constant contact with state and local IT security folks, we are seeing things in real time,” the senior CISA official said. “Metrically, we are not seeing an increase, but we are seeing things much faster and closer to real time.”

The official cautioned during an earlier press call Tuesday that malicious cyber activity could still adversely affect the vote count well into December as states worked to certify election results.

“The attack surface for disinformation and other foreign interference efforts extends well into the next month or two. There is no spiking the football here. We are acutely focused on the mission at hand,” the official told reporters. “We are aggressively looking for any activity that could interfere with the election, and that is going to be our mission for the foreseeable future.”

U.S. Cyber Command at the Pentagon was also actively involved in monitoring for threats to elections.

Gen. Paul Nakasone, head of U.S. Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “we know our adversaries better than they know themselves.”

“We stand ready with our partners to generate insights, enable defenses, and when authorized, impose costs on foreign adversaries,” Nakasone tweeted. “Rest assured, if called to, we will act.”

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and CISA Director Christopher Krebs on Tuesday morning both expressed confidence in the security of the voting process against foreign intervention, while emphasizing that the federal government is monitoring for threats.

“Our election infrastructure is resilient. We have no indication that a foreign actor has succeeded in compromising or affecting the actual votes cast in this election,” Wolf said.

Concerns around election security have been heightened since 2016, when Russian agents launched a sweeping and sophisticated campaign aimed at swaying the presidential election toward President Trump. Those efforts included disinformation on social media and targeting voting systems in all 50 states.

Last month, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and other federal officials said Iran and Russia had gained access to U.S. voter data, noting that Iran was using it to send threatening emails to voters in at least three states.

While cybersecurity incidents have so far remained low on Election Day, technical glitches and other issues have delayed voting in a handful counties. 

In North Carolina, issues including printer glitches led the State Board of Elections to extend voting at four polling sites by up to 45 minutes, delaying the official state vote count from being released. Franklin County, Ohio, and Spalding County, Ga., were among other counties seeing technical glitches.

The senior CISA official emphasized Tuesday night that federal officials would remain vigilant. 

“We’ve still got some work to do tonight, we are on the watch. And even when all the polls close, there is the auditing, there is the certification process. So we have weeks and months ahead of us,” the official said.

Tags 2020 election Chad Wolf CISA DHS Donald Trump Election Security John Ratcliffe

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