DHS Moves Ahead with Program to Defend Voter Registration Databases from Ransomware

The Department of Homeland Security is working on a program aimed to prevent voter registration databases from falling prey to ransomware and thus avoid a catastrophic incident on Election Day where the systems used to verify the eligibility of voters to cast ballots would be blocked by a malicious entity.

According to an agency spokesperson, the program consisting of outreach to state and local government officials will begin in about a month.

“Recent history has shown that state and county governments and those who support them are targets for ransomware attacks. Voter registration databases could be an attractive target for these attacks,” Chris Krebs, DHS’s top cyber official, said in a statement provided to CNN.

The outlet writes that a large portion of the voting process is done offline so as to stop possible meddling, but voter registration systems are usually online, increasing the risk of them being attacked by ransomware.

Apart from the election security assistance the DHS already provides, the agency will likewise give cities and states materials to help prepare officials for possible ransomware scenarios. If needed, the DHS will conduct vulnerability scans and provide materials on how to prevent and recover from a ransomware attack, CNN further informs.

Both intelligence officials and the office of the former special counsel have said that Russian actors broke into the voter registration database of the Illinois State Board of Elections in 2016, before accessing the state voter registration database.

Democratic lawmakers have been trying to introduce election security bills and make the issue a priority, but their efforts have been stunned by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

In his testimony last month, the former special counsel, Robert Mueller, warned that Russians are still looking for weaknesses in the U.S. election system, telling the panel, “They’re doing it as we sit here.” His comments echoed those of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who had warned of the same thing only days before.

“The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections,” Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. “My view is until they stop, they haven’t been deterred enough.”

Reuters writes that CISA, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency which is part of DHS, is worried that hackers could attack the system with ransomware, as such attacks have been on the rise lately.

“Recent history has shown that state and county governments and those who support them are targets for ransomware attacks,” said Christopher Krebs, CISA’s director. “That is why we are working alongside election officials and their private sector partners to help protect their databases and respond to possible ransomware attacks.”

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