Of­fi­cials: No vot­ing-sys­tem breaches seen

Some think 2020 race likely to be big­ger tar­get of for­eign agents

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - COLLEEN LONG AND MICHAEL BAL­SAMO In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Christina A. Cas­sidy of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

WASH­ING­TON — An un­prece­dented fed­eral and state col­lab­o­ra­tion to de­fend elec­tion sys­tems against Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence ended with no ob­vi­ous vot­ing sys­tem com­pro­mises, al­though it’s not en­tirely clear why.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials are won­der­ing whether for­eign agents are sav­ing their am­mu­ni­tion for the 2020 pres­i­den­tial show­down or plan­ning a late-stage mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign to claim Tues­day’s elec­tion had been tainted. It doesn’t change how vul­ner­a­ble most states are to pos­si­ble in­ter­fer­ence.

“They’ve shown will, they’ve shown the ca­pa­bil­ity,” Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen said. “I cer­tainly can’t speak to why they’re do­ing or not do­ing some­thing. But I would just of­fer to put it in a broader per­spec­tive — they have a full-court press through many means … to try to af­fect our democ­racy.”

In a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day af­ter Democrats won con­trol of the House, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said his ad­min­is­tra­tion worked hard to shore up elec­tions and he’d is­sue a re­port soon on the ef­fort.

U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have as­serted that Rus­sia, China, Iran and other coun­tries are en­gaged in on­go­ing ef­forts to in­flu­ence U.S. pol­icy and vot­ers in elec­tions. Chris Krebs, head of cy­ber­se­cu­rity at the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, said this year’s elec­tion was the warm-up.

“The midterm is not the big game,” he said. “The big game we think for the ad­ver­saries is prob­a­bly 2020.”

In­ter­fer­ence by Rus­sia dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race caught fed­eral and state of­fi­cials flat-footed. Since then, Home­land Se­cu­rity, the depart­ment tasked with help­ing states se­cure elec­tion sys­tems, and state elec­tion of­fi­cials have worked to cre­ate bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion to con­front and de­ter elec­tion tam­per­ing.

That ef­fort was largely suc­cess­ful Tues­day: Fed­eral ex­perts and of­fi­cials in 45 states came to­gether to re­port on any po­ten­tial cy­ber threats in real time.

The dif­fer­ence was stark com­pared with 2016, when fed­eral of­fi­cials were ac­cused first of be­ing too tight-lipped on their in­tel­li­gence about pos­si­ble hack­ing into state sys­tems and later for try­ing to ex­ert con­trol over elec­tion in­fra­struc­ture, which is op­er­ated by state and lo­cal govern­ments.

In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials say all 50 states had some type of in­tru­sion at­tempt two years ago, al­though only a few were com­pro­mised. That in­cluded Illi­nois, where records on 90,000 vot­ers had been down­loaded. There is no ev­i­dence any votes were al­tered.

Krebs said there was an in­crease this year in re­port­ing of po­ten­tial cy­ber in­ci­dents, but he at­trib­uted it to bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion, not an in­crease in over­all threats.

“We are get­ting an in­crease in re­port­ing from our part­ners in gen­eral, but that’s based on the re­la­tion­ships we’ve de­vel­oped over the last cou­ple of years. Two years ago, in 2016, we didn’t have an in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing mech­a­nism. Now we do, so we have a bet­ter aware­ness,” he said.

The push will con­tinue as state elec­tion of­fi­cials work to cer­tify win­ners. Af­ter that, fed­eral of­fi­cials will look at what worked and what didn’t to see how com­mu­ni­ca­tion and se­cu­rity can im­prove.

One chal­lenge is the an­ti­quated elec­tion equip­ment in many states. Out­dated soft­ware, for ex­am­ple, is highly vul­ner­a­ble to cy­ber­at­tacks.

Cy­ber­se­cu­rity ex­perts say it’s im­per­a­tive that U.S. elec­tion of­fi­cials take steps over the next two years to en­sure that vot­ing sys­tems are up­dated and in­clude a pa­per trail so elec­tion re­sults are sub­ject to a rig­or­ous au­dit­ing process that can de­tect out­side ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials cau­tioned that the ap­par­ent ab­sence of hack­ing this elec­tion does not mean for­eign agents are keep­ing quiet. They have warned re­peat­edly that in ad­di­tion to prob­ing elec­tion equip­ment, Rus­sia and oth­ers are us­ing so­cial me­dia mes­sag­ing to sow di­vi­sions through­out the coun­try.

Just hours be­fore the polls opened, Face­book of­fi­cials re­moved 30 Face­book ac­counts and 85 In­sta­gram ac­counts af­ter a tip from fed­eral law en­force­ment that the ac­counts were linked to for­eign en­ti­ties.

AP/DMITRI LOVET­SKY

This busi­ness cen­ter build­ing in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia, is known as a “troll fac­tory” from which thou­sands of false so­cial me­dia pro­files and email ac­counts seem­ingly em­a­nat­ing from in­side the United States were cre­ated.

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