[DHS/Iowa image via electionline]
Mindy Moretti’s latest installment of electionlineWeekly looks at a new effort underway in Iowa aimed at using posters to inform voters of how – and why – their election cybersecurity is being protected. Here’s the story:
At the recent National Association of State Election Directors and National Association of Secretaries of State Annual Conferences a lot — but not all — of the discussion focused on cybersecurity and the protection our elections. Many ideas and best practices were shared but there was one idea that had people getting out of their seats to take a closer look and even snap a few photos.
What was all the fuss? A poster.
A project launched by the Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with states that on the surface seems so simple, but that ultimately provides critical information at no cost to states and counties.
The posters are divided into three sections, safeguards, threats/risks and the checklist. Geoff Hale, cybersecurity strategy and integration program manager, who spearheaded the project for DHS said the poster is totally customizable to the states/counties and while DHS encourages them to include some information about certain safeguards (phishing), nothing is required.
“Election officials love a checklist,” said Matt Masterson, senior cybersecurity advisor for the DHS. “If we can lay out some of the risks and mitigations so [a] county feels ownership and provide that in a checklist — they are gonna put that thing up their office and get that checklist done.”
The first state DHS worked with was Iowa. Dawn Williams, director of elections for the State of Iowa, had already been thinking about her own poster project, one that she could have all the counties post in their employee area as a reminder of the everyday importance of strong cybersecurity practices. When Masterson was in Iowa to speak about cybersecurity, Williams had a chance to talk to him about her poster idea and he told her about DHS’ poster. It was the perfect launching point.
“The poster is the perfect tool to address the competing needs to keep the details of cybersecurity measures confidential and the need to communicate and bolster public confidence,” Williams said. “It provides a thorough overview of cybersecurity environment in Iowa which then assists election administrators to provide information in an organized and accurate manner, which bolsters public confidence in our elections.”
After working closely with Williams in Iowa to get the posters just right, in the early days of the project, DHS also worked with Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington so they could scale the posters for any type of voting climate — vote-by-mail, elections run by towns and municipalities instead of counties, etc.
Since the NASED and NASS conferences Masterson said they have heard from quite a few states about implementing the poster project there.
DHS is working with a contractor to produce the posters and Masterson said they are prepared to scale pretty significantly based on demand. It takes about 2-3 weeks to turn the project around depending on state-specific needs.
While the poster project starts with the states, Masterson said DHS would love to hear from counties that are interested so he and Hale can then work with the county reach out to that state and get them onboard.
“That’s the part that makes this scaleable,” Masterson said. “We knocked out all 99 counties [in Iowa] all together in one project. To be able to reach a state on that scale makes it easy for us.”
Masterson and Hale don’t anticipate this project just being for 2018 so that’s why they would encourage states to reach out to them at any time. The anticipation is that even states who have already received posters will need new/updated ones as threats change and evolve.
And while it may seem simple on the surface, Masterson noted that the importance of this poster project reaches to the highest levels at DHS.
“Secretary [Kristjen] Nielsen mentioned it at NASS in her remarks. We refer to it as the last mile,” Masterson said. “This is how we answer the need to reach those mid-size and small counties. We know how to get a hold of [Los Angeles County or Cook County], this effort is the first step in bridging that gap.”
The “last mile” idea is vital in any project, but especially here where the key is to get people to think about their specific role in the overall cybersecurity scheme. It’s also a great way for jurisdictions to think through what their systems are in order to explain them to voters – and of course the information and assurance to voters is invaluable. Kudos to Iowa and DHS for launching this idea and thanks as always for Mindy Moretti and electionline for sharing it with the field! Stay tuned …