National Scientific Laboratories Partnering with States to Improve Election Security

In an effort to establish and strengthen private-public partnerships addressing election security, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Cybersecurity Assessments and Technical Service (NCATS) team has announced a program allowing federally funded national science laboratories to examine and identify gaps that would help mitigate state election systems being vulnerable to cyber threats.

The initiative follows the joint establishment of the Sector Coordinating Council, a collaboration between the DHS and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an independent federal agency that serves as a national clearinghouse and resource of information regarding election administration for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

States currently run federal elections largely autonomously using technology from a variety of private firms and contractors. The collaboration will provide important information for voting-technology companies, who are not compelled under existing law to disclose if or when they have been breached.

Rob Karas, director of the NCATS team, said several elections firms have expressed interest and anticipate incorporating insight from the vulnerability reports into their products for use in the 2018 and 2020 elections. The vulnerability reports, which will be confidential, free, and comprehensive, are intended to assist vendors in strengthening the security of their products being used in the states.

In return, the federal government will gain a better understanding of the methods foreign governments may use to influence future elections. Intelligence officials predict Russia will attempt to meddle in subsequent elections. The reports can improve the federal government’s ability to respond to future incursions. As election security increasingly becomes a policy priority, federal scrutiny could be the factor that ensures the companies entrusted with designing election systems are prepared to resist future attacks.

Earlier this year, CSG partnered with the Democracy Fund to create an advisory group of state and local government officials and experts in cybersecurity, information technology, and election administration, as well as other stakeholders to help states address election cybersecurity concerns. Last month, the advisory group selected eight states to be included in a consortium to be convened in late summer 2018. At that consortium, states will map their election processes and develop incident response communication protocols for election cybersecurity breaches. Their findings and recommendations will be released publicly in November 2018.