Top federal officials on Tuesday said there were no signs of irregular cyber activities facing ongoing elections in more than 30 states and that they were working closely monitoring election systems along with their state, local and private sector partners.
“I’m happy to report that it’s quiet thus far and we hope it continues quietly for the rest of the day,” Christopher Krebs, director of the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said shortly after noon on Tuesday during a livestreamed media briefing in Harrisburg, Pa. Krebs appeared with state homeland security, election, and National Guard officials to discuss Pennsylvania’s and national election security efforts for 2019.
A senior CISA official echoed Krebs’ remarks not long after during a background call with media.
There has been nothing “outside usual activity but we continue to maintain our vigilance and points of contact with the states, sharing information among our partners and monitoring activity across the country,” the senior official said.
Still later in the afternoon, a joint statement from key federal partners said that there is no evidence of any “compromise or disruption to election infrastructure that would enable adversaries to prevent voting, change vote counts or disrupt the ability to tally votes.”
In Tuesday’s off-year elections, several states held gubernatorial contests and four states held legislative elections. There were also mayoral races and other local elections and ballot measures.
The joint statement warned that Russia, China, Iran and other foreign actors still want to interfere in U.S. elections through various means, including the voting process and influencing voter perceptions. It was signed by the heads of DHS, the Defense and Justice Departments, the Director of National Intelligence, FBI, National Security Agency, and CISA.
“Building on our successful, whole-of-government approach to security the 2018 elections, we have increased the level of support to state and local election officials in their efforts to protect elections,” the statement said. It also said that the government is working with all states, localities, territories and private sector partners to identify threats and share information “In an unprecedented level of coordination.”
At CISA’s headquarters near Washington, D.C., the agency on Tuesday stood up an Election Security Operations Center that includes federal, state and local partners, representatives from political parties, social media companies and election technology companies, the senior CISA official said.
In the days before election day, CISA also stood up a Cyber Situational Awareness Room, which is a virtual portal “that allows state and local election officials and vendors rapid sharing of information, and 24/7 access to the operational watch floor from their location,” a CISA official said. The virtual portal is available through the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI ISAC), which was set up in the wake of Russian efforts to hack into some state and local elections infrastructures during the 2016 presidential race.
The EI ISAC works to improve the cyber security posture of state and local election offices.
DHS used the Cyber Situational Awareness Room in the 2018 mid-term elections, demonstrating its success. The use of the virtual portal and the Election Security Operations Center served as a “preparation” for the 2020 presidential and congressional elections, the senior CISA official said.
The 2019 elections have been an opportunity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of sharing information through the Cyber Situational Awareness Room, the official said. For example, the official said this includes better sifting through information to “sort through noise to identify the items that are best able for us to analyze and support the state and local officials.”
The official also said the federal government is getting better at understanding the routine traffic that impacts the information technology systems of state and local election infrastructure and “how best to supply risk or threat information to the election officials in real-time or close to real-time on election day to help them manage those risks.”