Security

How Obama administration plans to prevent rigged elections

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that US president Barack Obama is considering ways to improve the security around the country's electronic voting system.

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Image: iStockphoto/hermosawave

The Obama administration may be looking for new ways to protect the United States' electronic voting system from cyberattacks. Jeh Johnson, the United States Secretary of Homeland Security, told reporters in Washington, DC on Wednesday that the administration is deciding whether or not to deem the ballot-casting system as "critical infrastructure."

"We should carefully consider whether our election system, our election process is critical infrastructure, like the financial sector, like the power grid," Johnson said. "There's a vital national interest in our electoral process."

The comments came during an election season that has seen cybersecurity at the forefront of many conversations. Most recently, the email hacks that led to the ousting of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email server while in office have brought attention to the importance of a strong cybersecurity policy.

Johnson said that the administration is "actively thinking about election cybersecurity right now." If the electronic voting system is designated as critical infrastructure, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be able to increase its efforts in protecting the system.

SEE: Network Security Policy Template (Tech Pro Research)

So, what constitutes critical infrastructure? According to the DHS website, it includes "sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof."

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Currently, 16 sectors make the cut as critical infrastructure. You can find the list here.

The efforts to increase security around the election system are further complicated by the complexity of balloting in the US. Currently, there are roughly 9,000 jurisdictions that play at least some part in collecting and tallying votes, and it could be difficult to get them all on the same page. Those jurisdictions include states, cities, and counties.

While Johnson didn't give specific details on what next steps might be taken to help secure the system, he noted that he would likely work to communicate best practices to election officials across the country.

The Obama administration has made a few strong efforts this year toward boosting cybersecurity. In February, the president laid out a budget proposal for 2017 that included $19 billion for cybersecurity. More recently, a new policy directive was published that made it easier for businesses to get help following an attack, and further outlined how the federal government would respond to cyber incidents.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that Obama is looking to boost cybersecurity efforts around the electronic voting system in the US.
  2. The Obama administration is deciding if the election system should be deemed "critical infrastructure," which would give the DHS more power to secure it.
  3. The balloting system, which comprises 9,000 jurisdictions, further complicates the efforts to secure the voting system.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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