DHS Secretary: No election day cyberattacks

Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

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Despite warnings during that there might be attempts by Russian hackers to disrupt or even influence the outcome of U.S. elections, authorities on high alert across the country last week detected no major cyber attacks or untoward online activity directed at election infrastructure, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday.

“In connection with the election, we did not see anything that I would characterize as significant,” he told the Bloomberg Next forum in D.C., “There were minor incidents of the type that people might expect, but nothing of significance.”

In August, Johnson very publicly warned the 9,000-plus state and local authorities which run U.S. national elections that there might be online attacks or cyber-espionage aimed at disrupting the election — although he also expressed the conviction that the results could not be impacted as even electronic voting machines were not connected to the internet.

As a result of that appeal, he said, “We had outreach from something like 48 states, which I was very pleased about — and we had something like 36 or 38 states ask for and accept our cybersecurity assistance in the run up to Nov. 8.”

He said that specialist cybersecurity teams from the Department of Homeland Security “identified some vulnerabilities [in states’ election-related IT infrastructure] which I would categorize as not … earth-shattering,” but that in any case there were no major attacks on polling day.

Over the summer, DHS officials speculated out loud about the possibility of designating election systems as “critical infrastructure” — a categorization that would give the department additional authorities to aid local governments if they asked for it. The possibility was vociferously rejected by some state officials who saw it as an unwarranted federal power grab.

Johnson said the move would not happen unless their was a demand for it from state and local governments. “It’s something that I will continue to discuss with secretaries of state and we’ll reach an assessment at some point, but not without close consultation with them,” he said.

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