Funding Available to Improve State's Election Cybersecurity Remains Unused

August 09, 2018 10:32 PM

The State of Minnesota is sitting on $6.6 million dollars in federal money that could be used for election cybersecurity.

But the state’s top election official is not allowed to use it because a bill authorizing its use wasn't signed into law.  

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"2016 was a wakeup call,” Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said. 

RELATED: Minnesota's Elections Chief Gets 'Secret' Security Clearance

“I can tell you this much - the federal intelligence officials who I work with have said in a unified voice (that) those of us who do this election business should expect more of what we saw in 2016. And from more sources."

Hackers targeted 21 states, including Minnesota's election system, in 2016, according to intelligence officials. Minnesota’s systems were not infiltrated.

RELATED: Secretary of State: Russians Targeted Minnesota Elections

Simon was asked ahead of Tuesday’s primary election if he had concerns when it comes to cybersecurity.

"Yes, I do," he said. "I always have concerns. I think the No. 1 threat to the integrity of our elections in this country and state is the possibility and the danger of some sort of cyberattack."

The Secretary of State’s office said there have not been any attempts on the state’s election systems since the last major election.

To improve cybersecurity training, Simon's office held training sessions last month for county election officials.

Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Dakota, Washington, Olmsted, St. Louis and Stearns have dedicated election officials, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

Simon’s office hoped to use the federal dollars to hire a cybersecurity trainer to go county-to-county. But he could not due to the federal funds not being authorized for use by the state.

RELATED: Dayton Has Yet To Sign Omnibus Bill That Includes Money for Election Cyber Security

It would cost an estimated $1.5 dollars to recode and maintain the state’s voter registration system built 14 years ago, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.  

"It’s not suitable for today from a security standpoint," Simon said.

The system houses all registered voter data, which is what the state uses to allow people to cast a ballot at their polling station.

"All you need to do is to crawl into one county to call the election results into question, or the auditing process into question, you undermine faith in democracy," cybersecurity expert Adam Levin said.

KSTP 2018 Election Page

Levin, the founder of CyberScout, advises election officials that they must focus resources on securing databases and voting systems, beefing up auditing systems, vulnerability management and education.

RELATED: Minnesota Will Still Use Some Voting Machines Over a Decade Old in November

"The cyberwar has replaced the cold war," Levin said. "Our democracy is under assault."

The state legislature authorized $7 million in grant money for counties for use in elections - primarily replacing old and outdated equipment.

Credits

Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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