Wary of hacks, states urged to up election security

Elizabeth Dexheimer

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is urging state and local election officials to seek assistance from the federal government to fend off cyberattacks that could be used to manipulate the results of the November presidential elections.

The agency is ready to provide any assistance to help states secure their systems, if they request it, Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security, said in a statement Saturday. Threats are rising that criminals will use cyberattacks to try to disrupt the administration of U.S. elections, the agency said.

“These challenges aren’t just in the future — they are here today,” Johnson said in the statement. “In recent months, malicious cyber-actors have been scanning a large number of state systems, which could be a preamble to attempted intrusions. In a few cases, we have determined that malicious actors gained access to state voting-related systems.”

Johnson’s statement is in response to a Sept. 28 letter from the top Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate to the National Association of State Election Directors, urging states to take advantage of public resources available to help them secure their systems.

Johnson said that the agency isn’t aware of any manipulation of data and that so far, 21 states have contacted the department to seek their help.

“We hope to see more,” he said.

The FBI has been investigating hacking attacks on at least two state election boards, one of which resulted in data being stolen, the bureau’s cyber division said in a recent alert. The majority of data stolen from one state’s board of elections website occurred in July, while an attempt to hack into the election system of another state was made in August, according to the bureau, which didn’t identify the states involved.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Dexheimer in Washington at edexheimer@bloomberg.net.