By Colin A. Young; February 20, 2018; State House News Service
Amid talk of ongoing meddling in American elections by Russia or other adversaries, the head of Secretary of State William Galvin’s elections division met over the long weekend with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials to discuss the security of state elections systems.
Last week, the director of national intelligence told federal lawmakers that the intelligence community has already seen signs that Russia, among others, may be attempting to involve itself in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections and other future contests.
“We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee last week. He added, “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.”
In the days following Coats’ testimony, Michelle Tassinari, director and legal counsel of the secretary of state’s Elections Division, was the state’s representative at the annual conference of the National Association of State Election Directors, which featured briefings by federal officials on increasing awareness of vulnerabilities of state election systems and threat mitigation.
“The American public’s confidence that their vote counts — and is counted correctly — relies on secure election infrastructure. The first primaries of the 2018 midterm election cycle are just around the corner, and DHS and our federal, state and local partners have been working together for more than a year to bolster the cybersecurity of the nation’s election infrastructure,” Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement released Tuesday morning.
The briefings from Homeland Security “reiterated the department’s commitment to working with election officials and system owners to support their efforts and determine where DHS support adds the most value,” the agency wrote in a readout of the briefings.
“The department lends its expertise and services to election partners on a voluntary basis, including risk and vulnerability assessments, cyber hygiene scans, providing real-time threat intelligence feeds, issuing security clearances to state officials, partnering on incident response planning, and delivering cybersecurity training,” DHS wrote.
Galvin’s office said the Massachusetts statewide voter database is not connected to the internet and can only be accessed by the secretary of state’s office or a local government’s election office. That structure — Galvin called it a “closed network” — bolsters the security of the system, Galvin told lawmakers earlier this month.
“There was a lot of speculation about efforts to hack election systems throughout the country (in 2016). We were officially informed by Homeland Security that we were not the subject of a hack effort and the reason, I believe, is that we have a closed system,” Galvin told a hearing of the Joint Ways and Means Committee in February.
Rep. Shawn Dooley, who served as town clerk in Norfolk before joining the House, said the system Galvin manages “is what separates us from a lot of other states and keeps our elections system completely secure.”
“I would hope that you would always keep that as a closed loop, very, very secure, system because when there’s no entry points it makes it a lot harder for someone to hack it,” Dooley told Galvin.
The secretary told lawmakers at that Feb. 6 hearing that he has resisted calls for him to link his systems with the new Mass.gov system or other state-maintained networks because he would not be able to assure the same level of security for voter information.
“The security issue is extremely important because of the information that we have. It’s personal information … I’m very jealous in my protection of this information, which we come up with over a long period of time. So the security of our system is paramount,” he said. “I’m the one who’s responsible, I have the material and therefore I want to make sure I’m on the best position to protect it and I don’t want to compromise that by engaging in any kind of relationship with any kind of agency that I don’t have control over.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Galvin joined WBUR’s Radio Boston to talk about elections security and said he thinks the security of the state’s voter database will be just as critical as it was in 2016 during the 2018 elections and beyond.
“I’m confident in the decisions we’ve already made … but I’m not cocky because I’m not saying that it can’t happen,” Galvin said of the threat of being hacked. “I’m saying that I’m concerned enough…I see this as a major threat going forward and as I said earlier, it’s not simply foreign players or people conspiring with candidates or anybody like that. It could be mischief-makers, it could be ransom-holders, it could be a whole host of things, just like we’ve seen in the commercial world.”
Read the original article here