50 States Reached out for Cyber Help, But DHS Says Election Hack Unlikely

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All 50 states have reached out to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for cybersecurity services, a DHS official said on the day before Election Day.

DHS’s Office of Cybersecurity and Communications (CS&C) offers a variety of cybersecurity services to states, including Cyber Hygiene (CH) checks, which scan for configuration errors and vulnerabilities. CS&C also provides Risk and Vulnerability Assessments (RVA), which involve DHS teams coming into a state or local election office and showing how their system can be exploited.

On Sept. 16, a representative from the Enterprise Performance Management Office (EMPO) at DHS said that 10 states had contacted the office for support. A day before the presidential election, another official confirmed the remaining 40 states have followed suit.

“We are concerned about bad cyber actors, generally state actors, hacktivists, criminals that intrude into the Internet presence of state election officials generally. And so we are offering assistance to these officials by way of cyber hygiene evaluations, incidence response, and information sharing,” Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, said at the Atlantic Forum on Sept. 8. “There has been a lot of chatter on the Internet of what that could mean.  It does not mean a Federal takeover of state election systems, or state elections, or even national elections, we don’t have the authority to do that. What we do at Homeland Security is offer assistance when people ask for it, so I’ve been trying to educate state election officials about what we are in a position to offer them to help them manage their election systems.”

After a flurry of cyberattacks on the Internet domain name management company Dyn on Oct. 21, some people expressed concern that voting machines could be subject to a similar breach. Johnson maintained that an election cyberattack is unlikely because voting centers, balanced among state, local, and county governments, are largely decentralized.

“It would be very difficult through any sort of cyber intrusion to alter the ballot count,” Johnson said.

Eleanor Lamb
About Eleanor Lamb
Eleanor Lamb is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Big Data, FITARA, Homeland Security, Education, Workforce Issues, and Civilian Agencies.
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