Colorado tops U.S. in vote se­cu­rity, gov­ern­ment says

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - NATION - By James An­der­son

DEN­VER — Colorado, whose elec­tion sys­tems are ranked among the na­tion’s safest, held a cy­ber­se­cu­rity and dis­as­ter ex­er­cise Thurs­day for dozens of state, county and fed­eral elec­tions of­fi­cials to re­in­force the state’s pre­pared­ness for, and pub­lic con­fi­dence in, Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions.

Par­tic­i­pants in­cluded Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity cy­ber ex­perts work­ing with county elec­tions clerks to con­front a rapid-fire se­quence of sce­nar­ios. In a brief ap­pear­ance, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Krist­jen Nielsen praised Colorado as a na­tional leader in safe­guard­ing elec­tions.

On Wed­nes­day, Nielsen called elec­tion se­cu­rity one of the na­tion’s high­est pri­or­i­ties. She said the big­gest threats are com­ing on­line from ma­li­cious na­tion-states seek­ing to dis­rupt democ­racy.

The U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity has said Rus­sia had tried to in­flu­ence the 2016 elec­tion to ben­e­fit Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Nielsen fre­quently has said the Rus­sians at­tempted to sow dis­cord and un­der­mine faith in the demo­cratic process and, over time, de­vel­oped a pref­er­ence for then-can­di­date Trump.

On Thurs­day, Nielsen re­it­er­ated her con­cerns about po­ten­tial Rus­sian hack­ing or in­ter­fer­ence, par­tic­u­larly of voter data­bases this year. But she said no at­tempts have been de­tected so far that match the scale of the 2016 ef­fort.

“Any at­tempt to in­ter­fere in our elec­tions is a di­rect at­tack on our democ­racy and is un­ac­cept­able,” Nielsen told par­tic­i­pants at a Den­ver ho­tel. Turn­ing to Colorado’s record, she de­clared: “We’d love to con­tinue to use you as an ex­am­ple of what other states can adopt.”

Among them, she said, her depart­ment wants all 50 states to con­duct post­elec­tion risk-lim­it­ing au­dits, which strictly en­sure the ac­cu­racy of vote counts, by 2020. It’s stan­dard prac­tice in Colorado.

Colorado’s Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State, Wayne Wil­liams, said the ex­er­cise aimed to in­crease pub­lic con­fi­dence that votes are safe.

“So we can tell you that no­body in Rus­sia, no­body in China, no­body any­where else in the world can change a bal­lot in Colorado,” Wil­liams said.

Colorado was the only one among 21 tar­geted states to re­port to Home­land Se­cu­rity — not the other way around — that Rus­sian in­ter­ests at­tempted to hack into its sys­tems in 2016, said state elec­tions di­rec­tor Judd Choate.

It’s in­vested in new vote tab­u­lat­ing machines and cre­ates a sep­a­rate pa­per trail of each bal­lot cast. Since 2013, it’s re­quired two-fac­tor au­then­ti­ca­tion for elec­tions sys­tems op­er­a­tors to ac­cess equip­ment. The sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice has more in­ter­net tech­nol­ogy staff than purely elec­tions-re­lated staff, and it has plans, which Choate wouldn’t dis­close for se­cu­rity rea­sons, to guar­an­tee se­cu­rity and pri­vacy in the re­mote case the state’s voter reg­is­tra­tion database is hacked.

This year, the state also will mon­i­tor Face­book, Twit­ter and In­sta­gram start­ing well ahead of the elec­tion to de­tect and re­spond to false ru­mors about vot­ing pro­ce­dures, out­ages, and other vot­ing prob­lems. It also will col­lect in­tel­li­gence on ef­forts to sway vot­ers on so­cial me­dia, Choate said. He noted that Colorado’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Home­land Se­cu­rity is strong.

Choate warned the dozens of clerks, database ex­perts and oth­ers that Thurs­day’s ex­er­cise would be tough, in­volv­ing, among a cas­cade of other prob­lems, at­tempts to hack voter rolls, de­tect pos­si­ble mal­ware planted in vot­ing sys­tems weeks be­fore­hand, phish­ing and re­spond­ing to so­cial me­dia posts claim­ing sys­tems were hacked or vot­ers turned away. The ex­er­cise con­cerned both the weeks lead­ing up to the elec­tion and elec­tion day it­self.

JIM AN­DER­SON / AP

David Stern (top right), a cy­ber­se­cu­rity of­fi­cial with the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, works with Colorado county elec­tions of­fi­cials.

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