Connecting state and local government leaders

Election Cyber Coordinating Council to Be Finalized Next Year

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Connecting state and local government leaders

State and federal officials met with election industry leaders to launch the council.

State election officials and the Homeland Security Department plan to finalize a sector coordinating council for elections next year, the organizations said Thursday.

State and federal officials met with election industry representatives to launch the council in Arlington, Va., this week. It will join similar coordinating councils for other critical industry sectors, such as energy, transportation, healthcare and financial services.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson placed the critical infrastructure label on elections in January, shortly after the 2016 election was rocked by Russian government-directed data breaches, according to intelligence and Homeland Security officials.

In addition to establishing sector coordinating councils to share cyber threat information between government and the industry sector, the critical infrastructure designation helps Homeland Security give security clearances to some people working inside the sector and vet its cyber protections.

The department is in the process of granting security clearances to top election officials in all 50 states.

The label also signals to Russia and other cyber adversaries that future digital meddling with U.S. elections will invite a serious response.

State election officials initially criticized the critical infrastructure designation, complaining that Homeland Security officials misunderstood basic facts about how elections are run and secured. Since then, they’ve generally made peace with the designation and are working with Homeland Security officials to upgrade cyber infrastructure in advance of the 2018 midterms.

Because of consolidation in the voting machine industry, only a handful of companies make the majority of U.S. voting machines, many of which have vast supply chains that run through numerous nations. That raises concerns about malicious software and digital backdoors that could be inserted into those machines to change votes or registered voter rolls in future elections.

In a statement after the meeting, Ricky Hatch, the election officials division director at the International Association of Government Officials, called on the voting machine industry to “be part of the solution.”

“Working closely with the companies that own and manage [election] infrastructure will be critical to our collective efforts to foster security and ensure the continuing integrity of our elections,” said David Wulf, acting deputy assistant secretary for Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection.

Joseph Marks is a senior correspondent for Nextgov, where this article was originally published.

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