Homeland Security chief weighs plan to protect voting from hackers

August 3, 2016

Anna Mulrine

On the heels of the Democratic National Convention hack and the political fallout that is ensuing months before the presidential election, the country's Homeland Security chief said he's considering measures that would strengthen cybersecurity protections for voting.

It’s time for the US government to "carefully consider" whether America’s election system should be considered as critical infrastructure, which would trigger greater digital security measures for electronic voting machines, said Jeh Johnson on Tuesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

Like exciting critical infrastructure sectors such as electric utilities and water treatment plants, “There’s vital interest in our election process,” said Mr. Johnson. "We’re actively thinking about the election and cybersecurity right now."

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If the US considered the election process as a critical infrastructure, the designation would have significant implications to how federal officials would respond to a possible cyberattack. There is no timeline yet for making that designation, but Johnson said he's considering reaching out to election officials.

There is not one federal election system, but rather 9,000 jurisdictions involved in voting across America that collect, tally, and report of votes. And as more voting machines are automated and election districts rely more heavily on computers to count votes, elections are more susceptible to cyberattacks, many cybersecurity experts warn. 

The DNC hack brought the dangers associated with hackers meddling in the US political process into focus. After the organization discovered the intrusion, they did not seek the assistance of Homeland Security. 

Johnson noted that a recent White House directive on how the nation should respond to significant cyberattacks named Homeland Security as the agency for “fixing and patching” vulnerabilities that could affect critical infrastructure.

"I’m the fireman," Johnson said, adding that FBI Director James Comey "is the cop."