Election cybersecurity headlined the Ohio Association of Election Officials Winter Conference held last week in Columbus as a joint announcement was made by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, and West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner in response to news the FBI will share information about cyberattacks with election officials.
“Today’s announcement from the FBI is a good step forward in protecting state election systems from our enemies, both foreign and domestic,” states the joint press release from the three secretaries dated Jan. 16. “Federal, state and local governments must work together to better detect and protect against cyber-attack. We’ve already seen positive results from the partnership between our states, which strengthens our resilience from attacks and ensure voters across this nation will have the confidence they deserve as they cast their ballot this year.”
Sam Kindred, SCS Consulting, Westerville, who consults the Delaware County Board of Elections on election security, was at the conference.
“The storyline is, everybody is engaged from the Department of Homeland Security to the Secretary of State, who is concerned and engaged on cybersecurity,” he told the Delaware County BOE Tuesday morning. “We even had the director of Homeland Security Cybersecurity come to our conference last week to make a presentation. That shows the importance.”
Kindred said he couldn’t talk about any of the specifics from the conference, but he added there is a concern for the Chinese meddling in intellectual property and technology, and the Russians are known for spreading discourse and half-truths.
“There is a concern that the Iranians will meddle in the elections for revenge of killing Qasem Soleimani,” he said. “The Iranians are known for infrastructure disruptions.”
In response to heightened tensions related to Iran, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a special notice on Jan. 8 to Ohio’s 88 county boards of elections with instructions for managing potential threats.
“Earlier this week, state networks across the U.S. experienced an increase in suspicious cyber activity from active internet protocol (IP) addresses originating from several countries, including Iran. In coordination with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Ohio National Guard, and colleagues in Colorado and West Virginia, Secretary LaRose required county boards of elections to block an identified set of Iranian IP addresses on county firewalls,” states the notice.
LaRose emphasized that there have been no successful intrusions into Ohio’s elections network, including the county boards of elections.
“The bad guys only have to be right once. We have to be right every day,” he said. “Enemies foreign and domestic have made it known that they are going on the offensive, and I want to assure Ohioans that I will be as transparent as I can be to share all available unclassified information with them about what we are doing to protect Ohio’s elections.”
Kindred said in West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s presentation, he thanked Ohio for being the leader across the United States in cybersecurity.
“With all the things we’re now doing in Ohio, we’re the envy of the nation,” he said. ‘The (Ohio) Secretary of State has put a lot of resources, staff, IT systems in to prevent, mitigate, and monitor what is going on in our election systems.”
Kindred said the overall goal of Russia, Iran, and China is to get us to distrust our system, to distrust our government, and to distrust the results of the country’s elections.
“They can’t change any votes, so they spread discourse to make you distrust the systems and the results that come from those systems,” he said. “They study us so they know what our weaknesses are. They know our vulnerabilities and our disconnects.”
According to the Jan. 8 press release, LaRose’s office is working with the Ohio National Guard to create the civilian “Cyber Reserve Force” to provide additional support should an attack occur.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.