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On Friday, US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson designated election systems to be part of the nation’s critical US infrastructure. He said this move would better protect elections from increasingly sophisticated hacking.
“Now more than ever, it is important that we offer our assistance to state and local election officials in the cybersecurity of their systems,” Johnson wrote in a statement published late Friday afternoon. “Election infrastructure is vital to our national interests, and cyber attacks on this country are becoming more sophisticated, and bad cyber actors—ranging from nation states, cyber criminals and hacktivists—are becoming more sophisticated and dangerous.”
The designation came the same day that US intelligence officials published an unclassified version of a report concluding that Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin directly ordered intelligence agencies to collect data from the Democratic National Committee, the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and other organizations. The agencies then oversaw an effort to discredit Clinton, the Democratic party, and the US democratic political process through “information operations,” according to the report, which was jointly written by the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the FBI.
Friday’s declassified report says that Russian intelligence services “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards,” but went on to conclude that none of the affected systems was involved in vote tallying. In August, voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois were reportedly targeted by hackers. Election officials in Arizona said the FBI warned them the attempted intrusion was carried out by Russians, but they didn’t say if the hackers were state-sponsored or financially motivated.
Sixteen US sectors are classified as critical infrastructure, including chemical manufacturing, dams, and emergency services. Friday’s designation adds election systems as a subsection to the existing government facilities sector. The DHS published a fact sheet concerning the move here. Johnson sought to head off criticism from some state officials opposed to the new designation.
“This designation does not mean a federal takeover, regulation, oversight, or intrusion concerning elections in this country,” he wrote. “This designation does nothing to change the role state and local governments have in administering and running elections.”
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