Senate Intel Committee Releases Draft Security Recommendations to Protect Election Systems

Frederick Owens
March 22, 2018

The Senate Intelligence Committee released its first draft recommendations on how to prevent foreign hacking of US elections, calling on Congress to provide funding to help states tighten security after spending more than a year investigating Russian attempts to target the voting system in 2016. The Homeland Security Department took almost a year to inform the affected states of hacking attempts or suspicious cyberactivity, blaming it in part on a lack of security clearances.

But they also sought to press state officials to upgrade equipment and technology used in voting - for example, making sure there is a paper tally as well as an electronic one.

Even a breach that didn't reach critical voting systems could raise questions about an election outcome if federal and state officials don't convince the public about the limits of the breach or get their facts wrong, said Eric Rosenbach, a former top cyber official at the Pentagon and now co-director of Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Mark Warner (D-VA) arrive ahead of Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone, nominee to lead the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command, to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2018. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Susan Collins of ME and Democratic Sens.

One problem they identified was the lack of state and local election officials with security clearances so they could review pertinent information.

The current Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, is describing efforts her agency also has announced, and that's not sitting well with Republican Sen. They also call for the federal government to do more to deter cyberattacks by foreign adversaries. Now that the potential vulnerability of USA election systems is widely known, Russian Federation may not be the only adversary looking to poke holes in US systems.

There is no evidence to support the claims that Russians were successful in swaying voters, but the fact that a foreign government attempted to interfere in a US presidential election has many concerned.

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The committee's recommendations are a preview of an election security report that is expected to be released in its entirety in the coming weeks.

"The Russians were relentless in the 2016 elections and they will continue their efforts to undermine public confidence in western democracies and in the legitimacy of our elections", Collins said Tuesday.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been conducting what is widely viewed as the least partisan out of the three primary congressional probes of Russia's meddling in 2016.

"We may never know the full extent of the Russian malicious attacks", Collins said.

Hackers might also target the companies that manufacture voting machines before they reach states, Sen.

Another issue highlighted by lawmakers was the sufficiency of the messaging that did go from federal agencies to state officials about the potential threats in 2016.

The committee has yet to make a definitive statement on whether or not Trump campaign officials colluded with Russian agents leading up to the 2016 election, although the panel has one ongoing investigation into the matter.

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