Cybersecurity

Officials on alert for cyber threats ahead of election day

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Officials are on alert for threats to elections ahead of Election Day in states including Virginia on Tuesday, one year after a contentious 2020 presidential election.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) put out a statement Monday announcing that it would set up an election situational awareness room to monitor elections in over 30 states. 

This space will serve to coordinate election security efforts between CISA, the key agency responsible for election security, and election officials at the state and local levels, along with representatives from political organizations and other private sector groups. 

CISA stressed Monday that while preparations were underway to monitor for any security concerns, there is currently “no specific, credible threat to election infrastructure.”

“CISA has supported state and local election officials to help secure their systems and push back against malicious actors seeking to disrupt our democratic process and interfere in our elections,” Geoff Hale, the director of CISA’s Election Security Initiative, said in a statement Monday. “We look forward to continuing this work in collaboration with our election partners to ensure the security and resilience of elections in 2021 and beyond.”

The agency is also again using its “rumor control” page to help push back against election disinformation and misinformation. The page was created by the agency ahead of the 2020 presidential election, and was a key factor behind President Trump’s decision to fire former CISA Director Christopher Krebs in the days after the election, as CISA and election officials sought to stress the accuracy of the 2020 election results. 

CISA Director Jen Easterly encouraged voters to visit the site, tweeting Monday that it would “help debunk election security mis-, dis-, and malinformation that aims to undermine public confidence in the electoral process.”

In Virginia, likely to be the most watched state Tuesday due to its hotly contested governor’s race, officials are also confident ahead of Election Day.

Chris Piper, the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, wrote an op-ed published Saturday for The Richmond Times-Dispatch stressing the security of the process and detailing the methods employed to secure machines used in the voting process. 

“Voting is your right,” Piper wrote. “And it is our privilege and duty to assure you that your ballot was counted accurately and produced a reliable, trustworthy outcome. You can count on your defenders of democracy.”

Efforts to secure U.S. elections have been increasingly ramped up in the years since the 2016 presidential election, when Russian actors targeted voting infrastructure in all 50 states, and launched a disinformation campaign ahead of election day aimed at skewing the election in favor of now former President Trump. 

In the years since, both foreign and domestic actors have continued to use social media to spread disinformation, including Iran and Russia in advance of last year’s presidential election, and more states have zeroed in on enhancing cybersecurity of election infrastructure. 

Jon Ford, managing director at cybersecurity group Mandiant, said at an event hosted by the Election Assistance Commission last week that threats in both the information and cyber spaces were still increasing. 

He pointed to particular concerns around hackers targeting operational technology to using ransomware attacks to disrupt elections, and noted that both Russia and China were still extremely active in the disinformation space. 

“Protecting our election infrastructure and how we are seeing threats apply to that certainly is top of mind for us,” Ford said.

Tags China CISA Donald Trump Election Security Iran Russia Virginia

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