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Thursday, June 20th, 2024

NASS questions DHS outreach to state election officials during 2016 presidential election cycle

Following reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contacted 21 chief state election officials whose election systems were targeted during the recent presidential election cycle, the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) issued a statement questioning the timing and response by DHS after multiple attempts to warn DHS of election system vulnerabilities.

“Based on information from DHS and initial feedback from states targeted, the activity appears to have consisted mainly of efforts to ‘scan’ state systems for vulnerabilities,” NASS said. “While numerous media reports have been describing the activity as ‘election hacking,’ it is important to clarify that scanning is used by would-be attackers to look for open doors into networks.”

According to NASS, the scans found that the doors were locked and that in no case was voter information altered or deleted. Additionally, no evidence was found that voting systems were targeted or that the administration of the election, including the tallying of results, was impacted in any way.

“It is not clear why DHS waited a year to share this information with chief state election officials,” they said. “The fact that state systems effectively thwarted these hacking attempts is a positive outcome.”

The statement comes after a number of requests by NASS members for federal law enforcement agencies to share threat intelligence information and notify election officials who were targeted by hackers. However, that information was only shared months after the fact.

In response to the delays, DHS recently stated that it will prioritize improved communication with state election officials moving forward in order to mitigate future threats as they appear.