In an attempt to clarify what kind of assistance they will offer state and local election officials to prevent their systems from being hacked, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a further warning about the security of the ballot and what steps it will take to prevent it.
We have confidence in the overall integrity of our electoral systems,"Johnson said. "It is diverse, subject to local control, and has many checks and balance built in.""Nevertheless, we must face the reality that cyberintrusions and attacks in this country are increasingly sophisticated, from a range of increasingly capable actors that include nation-states, cyberhacktivists, and criminals," it added. "In this environment, we must be vigilant."DHS said its help is voluntary and doesn't involve regulation or binding directors, and includes things like running "cyberhygiene scans" on Internet systems. These scans can be done remotely, and can lead to recommendations about what steps need to be taken to boost security.Other services DHS is offering include:*Risk and vulnerability assessments that are run on-site by DHS cybersecurity experts.*Using the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center to report possible cyberincidents.*Information sharing, to help election officials take steps to protect their systems.*Field-based cybersecurity advisors, to help connect election officials to the tools they need to boost cybersecurity.
As long as it's voluntary, there shouldn't be any conflicts between the feds and states. But as we get closer to the election, you can't help but wonder if DHS will at least partly change its mind.
The president has talked about our election system being "critical infrastructure." This is a designation that allows DHS wide latitude in how it handles cyber-security. Suppose they find most of our election systems vulnerable to a cyber-attack? It's not impossible to imagine DHS taking over critical systems – such as vote tabulation – to ensure the safety of the ballot.
I'm not suggesting that DHS would engage in anything illegal. But I am worried about the precedent it would set for the federal government to at least partly take over the election process that rightly belongs under the authority of the states.