To Protect Election Systems From Cyber Attack, Feds And States Need Closer Coordination

Right now, federal intelligence officials can’t tell state election authorities all they know about cyber threats.

By Jill AmentFebruary 28, 2018 11:17 am

We now know that Texas is among the states whose election systems were compromised by Russian hackers before the 2016 elections. The fear is that it will happen again in 2018. On Tuesday, outgoing NSA Chief and head of the military’s Cyber Command, Michael Rogers, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the administration had given Rogers’ agency no orders related to preventing further Russian meddling. But some states are denying that interference occurred, or that it was successful.

Joshua Shifrinson, a professor at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service specializing in U.S. foreign relations and international security, says the conflict may be a result of the federal government not sharing all of the information it has with states, as well as states’ lack or receptiveness to such information.

“The recent revelations that Texas was one of seven states compromised comes after disclosures that as many as 21 states may have been targeted during the 2016 election cycle,” Shifrinson says. “…There’s a real sense that there are intelligence bottlenecks.”

Shifrinson says it doesn’t make sense to blame the Obama administration for not preventing Russian election interference, as President Donald Trump’s press secretary did on Tuesday. He points out that the Trump administration hasn’t resolved the problem.

“It’s very obvious from the reports that have leaked out that the Obama administration was grappling for tools to deal with Russian cyber meddling,” Shifrinson says. “And we talk about retaliation in the cyber domain – it’s very unclear. It’s not like a military attack where you see troops come across a border and you can threaten retaliation. Cyber is in this mysterious nether region.”

Shifrinson says the first step in hardening U.S. and state defenses against cyber attacks is to listen to experts in the field.

“Cyber is one of those issues that doesn’t recognize political boundaries in the normal fashion,” Shifrinson says.

As to solutions, Shifrinson says federal intelligence officials need to be able to share more information with state elections officials. Next, decisions about how to respond to a cyber attack should be made quicker. Finally, Shifrinson says, more funding should be allocated to election cybersecurity.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.