The 2020 election in the U.S. is less than a week away and warnings about cyber threats to the vote are coming out with about the regularity as polls of the presidential contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Also this month, an outbreak of the Dopplepaymer ransomware affected elections infrastructure in Hall County, Georgia, disabling a database used to verify voter signatures in the authentication of absentee ballots.
Which leads us to ask: despite years of warnings, are state and local governments ready for what Russia, Iran or any number of ransomware gangs have in store for them?
To help answer that question, we invited Rob Bathurst into the studio. Rob is the Chief Technology Officer at Digitalware, a Denver area company that specializes in risk analysis and risk management with Federal, state and local government and F500 companies.
In this conversation, Rob and I talk about what the biggest cyber risks are to state and local governments and how worried we should be about warnings about cyber threats to elections systems are.
Vulnerabilities are just a reality in government networks, Rob says. The key is to avoid being surprised by attacks and also to ensure that you can keep voting systems and other critical systems available even if they are the target of an attack.
In this conversation, Rob and I talk about the bigger picture of cyber risk for federal state and local governments. We also talk about incidents like the recent hack of government ERP provider Tyler Technologies.
Rob Bathurst is the Chief Technology Officer at the firm Digitalware. he was here talking to us about cyber risks in local governments and the risk to elections systems.
In this Spotlight Podcast, sponsored by RSA, we take on the question of securing the 2020 Presidential election. Given the magnitude of the problem, could taking a more risk-based approach to security pay off? We’re joined by two information security professionals: Rob Carey is the Vice President and General Manager of Global Public Sector Solutions at RSA. Also joining us: Sam Curry, the CSO of Cybereason.
With just over two months until the 2020 presidential election in the United States, campaigns are entering the final stretch as states and local governments prepare for the novel challenge of holding a national election amidst a global pandemic.
Lurking in the background: the specter of interference and manipulation of the election by targeted, disinformation campaigns like those Russia used during the 2016 campaign – or by outright attacks on election infrastructure. A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee warns that the Russian government is preparing to try to influence the 2020 vote, as well.
A Risk Eye on the Election Guy
Securing an election that takes place over weeks or even months across tens of thousands cities and towns – each using a different mix of technology and process – may be an impossible task. But that’s not necessarily what’s called for either.
Like large organizations who must contend with a myriad of threats, security experts say that elections officials would do well to adopt a risk-based approach to election security: focusing staff and resources in the communities and on the systems that are most critical to the outcome of the election.
What does such an approach look like? To find out, we invited two, seasoned security professionals with deep experience in cyber threats targeting the public sector.
Robert J. Carey is the Vice President and GM of Global Public Sector Solutions at RSA.
Rob retired from the Department of Defense in 2014 after over 31 years of distinguished public service after serving a 3½ years as DoD Principal Deputy Chief Information Officer.
Also with us is this week is Sam Curry, Chief Security Officer of the firm Cybereason. Sam has a long career in information security including work as CTO and CISO for Arbor Networks (NetScout) CSO and SVP R&D at Microstrategy in addition to senior security roles at McAfee and CA. He spent seven years at RSA variously as CSO, CTO and SVP of Product and as Head of RSA Labs.
To start off our conversation: with a November election staring us in the face, I asked Rob and Sam what they imagined the next few weeks would bring us in terms of election security.
Like Last Time – But Worse
Both Rob and Sam said that the window has closed for major new voting security initiatives ahead of the 2020 vote. “This election…we’re rounding third base. Whatever we’ve done, we have to put the final touches on,” said Carey.
Like any other security program, election security needs baselines, said Curry. Elections officials need to “game out” various threat, hacking scenarios and contingencies. Election officials need to figure out how they would respond and how communications with the public will be handled in the event of a disruption, Curry said.
“The result we need is an election with integrity and the notion that the people have been heard. So let’s make that happen,” Curry said.
Carey said that – despite concerns – little progress had been made on election security. “The elections process has not really moved forward much. We had hanging chads and then we went to digital voting and then cyber came out and now we’re back to paper,” he said.
Going forward into the future, both agree that there is ample room for improvement in election security – whether that is through digital voting or more secure processes and technologies for in person voting. Carey said that the government does a good job securing classified networks and a similar level of seriousness needs to be brought to securing voting sessions.
“Is there something that enables a secure digital vote?” Carey said. “I’m pretty sure our classified networks are tight. I know we’re not in that space here, but I know we need that kind of confidence in that result to make this evidence of democracy stick,” he said.