The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the nation’s election infrastructure will be designated as a subsector of the existing critical infrastructure sector.
According to a Jan. 6 statement from Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the agency’s designation means that DHS will supply the election infrastructure with increased cybersecurity assistance. Election infrastructure refers to storage facilities, polling places, and centralized vote tabulation locations used to support the election process, as well as information and communications technology that includes voter registration databases, voting machines, and other systems to manage the election process.
Johnson stated he is aware that many state and local election officials are opposed to this critical infrastructure designation.
“It is important to stress what this designation does and does not mean. This designation does not mean a Federal takeover, regulation, oversight or intrusion concerning elections in this country,” Johnson said. “The designation of election infrastructure as critical infrastructure subsector does mean that election infrastructure becomes a priority within the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.”
DHS officials will now prioritize assistance to state election officials who ask for help. Election infrastructure joins 16 other critical infrastructure sectors, which include defense industrial base, food and agriculture, and nuclear reactors and waste.
The agency’s designation arrived the same day as a declassified intelligence report revealing that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to denigrate Hillary Clinton and help President-elect Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
“Particularly in these times, this designation is simply the right and obvious thing to do. Now more than ever, it is important that we offer our assistance to state and local election officials in the cybersecurity of their systems,” Johnson said. “Election infrastructure is vital to our national interests, and cyberattacks on this country are becoming more sophisticated, and bad cyber actors–ranging from nation-states, cyber criminals and hacktivists–are becoming more sophisticated and dangerous.”