How Florida is bolstering election security after being targeted by Russian hackers


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That is half three of TechRepublic’s sequence on how states throughout the US are approaching the cybersecurity menace to the 2018 midterm elections. Search for case research from different states within the coming weeks. Learn the primary two installments on West Virginia and Ohio.

With regards to election safety, Florida has a status for being a little bit of an issue baby—and a preferred goal for hackers.

The Sunshine State was one in all 21 states whose voter registration databases have been focused by Russian hackers in 2016. A number of counties have been additionally targets of phishing assaults from Russian operatives that 12 months, and the Division of Homeland Safety warned that the swing state stays a goal.

“The worldwide consideration that has been given to the truth that there was Russian interference in our election might encourage others to attempt to intrude,” stated Juan Gilbert, chair of the division of laptop and data science and engineering on the College of Florida, Gainesville, and co-author of the Securing the Vote report from the Nationwide Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Drugs. “We actually should be diligent about this and take it significantly.”

SEE: Community safety coverage template (Tech Professional Analysis)

Florida additionally doesn’t require its voting machines to satisfy federal requirements earlier than they’re bought and utilized in elections within the state, based on a February report from the left-leaning Heart for American Progress evaluating the election safety of all 50 states.

Nowhere was the election safety problem on bigger show than at DEFCON 2018 in Las Vegas in August, the place an 11-year-old boy hacked the election reporting part of a reproduction Florida Secretary of State web site in beneath 10 minutes. An 11-year-old lady then hacked the identical reproduction web site, and tripled the variety of votes on it in about 15 minutes.

Picture: iStockphoto/Meinzahn

“After all, the setting and state of affairs there’s completely different than an extraordinary election situation,” stated Danielle Root, voting rights supervisor on the Heart for American Progress. “However the reality than an 11-year-old boy managed to try this in so little time ought to concern just a few folks.”

With all of this in thoughts, election officers throughout Florida’s 67 counties are taking steps to enhance election safety forward of the 2018 midterms. In July, the state accepted $19.2 million from Congress as a part of a 2018 spending invoice to handle cybersecurity points via the Assist America Vote Act (HAVA). That cash has been divided among the many counties and is getting used for bodily safety, voting system upgrades, post-election audits, and threat evaluation audits, to keep up election integrity.

Phishing rip-off

In August 2016, Russian operatives hacked the computer systems of election system vendor VR Techniques that has contracts with a number of states. The software program, used to confirm voter registration information, wouldn’t be capable to change votes, however may trigger severe disruptions at polling locations. The operatives despatched 122 spear-phishing emails to counties in Georgia, Iowa, and Florida, with a hyperlink directing workers to click on on a malicious web site, that may request their login credentials.

This data was uncovered after the US Justice Division indicted 12 Russian navy intelligence officers for trying to disrupt the 2016 US presidential election.

Clay County, positioned simply south of Jacksonville, was one of many counties that obtained the phishing message. Nevertheless, the e-mail was offloaded to a quarantine server, stated county election supervisor Chris Chambless.

SEE: Safety consciousness and coaching coverage (Tech Professional Analysis)

“It was by no means a menace to the community,” Chambless stated. “That was usually the case in all counties affected. There was no Florida county that executed the malicious script.” At the moment, Clay County additionally blacklisted 700 IP addresses that have been designated as doubtlessly malicious, Chambless stated.

The identical was the case in Collier County, positioned south of Fort Myers, which additionally obtained the message. “Workers is educated to be alert of suspicious emails, so it was quarantined straight away, and we reported it to our county IT workers who manages our emailing system and we alerted the seller of the e-mail,” stated Trish Robertson, Collier County election communication coordinator.

Even when the phishing e mail had made its method to inboxes, “it was very uncharacteristic of our vendor,” Chambless stated. “Our vendor’s excellent about locking down the code a number of months earlier than we go into an election cycle, and so had we obtained it, we might’ve questioned the truth that they have been doing a launch that may require new documentation anyway.”

Collier County obtained $261,657 in HAVA funding, which is getting used for software program and purchases to observe community exercise, changing outdated with new gear, and IT workers coaching to determine and mitigate attainable assaults sooner or later, Robertson stated.


Picture: iStockphoto/natasaadzic

Clay County was given about $115,000 from the HAVA grant. It has not used all the funds, largely as a result of many new protections had been put in place earlier than the cash was disbursed, Chambless stated.

Enhancements have been made to bodily safety, in addition to community hardening, together with the addition of extra advanced passwords and multi-factor authentication, Chambless stated. Extra instruments have been additionally carried out to focus extra on proactively addressing intrusion makes an attempt, somewhat than solely monitoring them, he added. There may be additionally coaching in place to assist elections officers determine threats like phishing assaults.

“Supervisors of elections have at all times been security-conscious, so there’s at all times been an emphasis on that, whether or not it was human safety or laptop safety,” Chambless stated. “Nevertheless, applied sciences evolve and threats emerge and mature, so the main target is ever-shifting. It is essential that you just keep vigilant, and proceed to trip that bloody fringe of each menace and evolvement of expertise to remain continuously conscious.”

SEE: Incident response coverage (Tech Professional Analysis)

Auditing points

A serious downside in Florida’s election safety requirements are its post-election audit necessities, the Heart for American Progress report discovered.

For one, these audits will be carried out electronically, by retabulating the ballots in both the identical or one other digital machine.

“Any time you might be utilizing an digital machine, there’s a probability for malfunction, to not point out hacking,” Root stated. “By permitting post-election audits to be carried out electronically, you are opening your self as much as vulnerability and unreliable post-election audit outcomes.”

Audits right here will not be mandated to escalate within the occasion that an error is recognized, the report discovered. “By not escalating, you do not have an image of how intensive the issue might be,” Root stated.

Florida additionally has no requirement for post-election audit outcomes to doubtlessly overturn inaccurate election outcomes, based on the report. “That is problematic, as a result of if an audit tells you that the result of an election was fallacious, then these outcomes ought to be capable to overturn incorrect elections,” Root stated.

Nevertheless, it is not all dangerous information: The state’s election safety strengths embody requiring sure cybersecurity requirements like entry management for the voter registration database, and performing common vulnerability assessments, the report discovered.

“Gone are the times when you may make a blanket assertion that programs are virtually a defacto safe,” Chambless stated. “Actually with zero-day threats and new malware popping out, it is vitally essential that you just develop a sturdy system that’s multi-layered in detecting and figuring out, and with restoration that may are available quite a few other ways, and completely different assets that proceed to evolve.”

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