More States and Localities Seek DHS Cybersecurity Assistance

Seal_of_the_United_States_Department_of_Homeland_Security

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With Election Day less than four weeks away, more jurisdictions are seeking cybersecurity assistance from the federal government. The Hill has more:

Thirty-three states and 11 county and local election agencies have sought help from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to shore up their voting infrastructure against cyberattacks, according to the agency. 

The department urged other states to take advantage of its services — such as scanning internet-facing systems to identify vulnerabilities — noting that less than 30 days remain until Election Day.

“Time is a factor,” the agency wrote in a notice sent late Monday. “It can take up to two weeks from the time we receive authorization to run the scans and identify vulnerabilities. It can then take at least an additional week for state and local election officials to mitigate any vulnerabilities on systems that we may find.”

The growing response comes despite concerns about an expanded federal role in election administration – concerns addressed by congressional leaders in a recent letter to states:

Some states have resisted accepting help from the agency, which is weighing whether to designate election systems as critical infrastructure.

Opponents say it amounts to a federal takeover of what has traditionally been a local process, and the proposal has drawn some pushback from congressional leaders.

Accepting assistance “does not entail federal regulation or binding federal directives of any kind, and we would oppose any efforts of the federal government to exercise any degree of control over the states’ administration of elections by designating systems as critical infrastructure,” wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a letter urging states to take DHS up on its offer.

Here’s the letter in its entirety:

congressional-cysbersecurity-letter

The letter notwithstanding, I would expect that the debate over the “critical infrastructure”designation could be renewed next year in Washington, DC – and it will undoubtedly resurface the federal vs. state tensions that underpin our nation’s election administration system.

In the meantime, however, it’s encouraging to see so many jurisdictions taking advantage of DHS’ offer of cybersecurity assessment and assistance; as I’ve written before, cybersecurity is now one topic with which election officials should have familiarity if not expertise and any help in identifying vulnerabilities is clearly a good thing.

27 days until Election Day – stay tuned …

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