DHS Cybersecurity Expert Says 2020 Election Threats Are Far Lower Than 2016: Like ‘Night and Day’

August 21, 2020 Updated: August 21, 2020

A top cybersecurity expert at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said the threat of election interference in the upcoming November election is substantially lower than in 2016, according to reports.

Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS, told CBS in an interview: “From a cybersecurity threat landscape, [it’s a] significantly different threat landscape than 2016. Much, much lower, particularly when you talk about nation-state adversaries.”

Krebs said that a bipartisan, nationwide effort is underway to ensure election security, adding that the difference between 2020 and 2016 is like “night and day.”

The 2016 election was targeted by Russia, which, according to an Intelligence Community Assessment cited by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in Senate testimony, used cyber operations against both political parties and that “President Putin directed and influenced [a] campaign to erode the faith and confidence of the American people in our presidential election process.” Russia’s meddling did not extend to actual vote tallying and no intelligence or evidence was found to suggest that any votes were changed as a result of the interference.

“We took some lumps during and after 2016,” Krebs told CBS, adding, “but we really recommitted to this bipartisan, almost apolitical partnership of election security and making sure that 2020 is as secure as possible.”

“The full might of the United States government’s national security apparatus is defending these elections,” he added.

Krebs’ remarks come as the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council detailed some of the work being done to secure November’s elections, while acknowledging that the threat of foreign interference remains.

“The pandemic has changed the way some will cast their ballots this year and the threat of foreign interference remains. However, as an election community, we are practiced and prepared to take these challenges head on and ensure American voters decide American elections,” the Council said in an Aug. 20 statement.

“All 50 states and the District of Columbia, and numerous counties now have intrusion detection sensors protecting their election infrastructure, and public and private sector cybersecurity professionals have conducted hundreds of assessments on state and local networks, including penetration testing, phishing campaign assessments, and vulnerability assessments,” the Council said.

“We recently held a nationwide Tabletop the Vote exercise with participation from 37 states and 2,100 participants. Every state and more than 2,700 local jurisdictions are members of the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), allowing for technical information on threats to be shared in real-time,” the Council added.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently developed a resource to help election administrators address possible vulnerabilities in their election systems. It includes a step-by-step guide, a list of resources, and a template for establishing a successful vulnerability disclosure program.

“Elections will look different this year, but we want voters to know our election community is ready and taking active measures to ensure every ballot is counted as cast,” the Council said.

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