(CISA photo)

McAleenan: 2020 Election Officials ‘Standing on the Front Lines of a Renewed Conflict’

The 2016 election “was a wake-up call for our nation’s election security mission” and state and local election officials “are standing on the front lines of a renewed conflict” in the election ahead, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s National Cybersecurity Summit on Thursday.

McAleenan lauded CISA as a “tremendous asset” in the Department of Homeland Security for the “expertise and years of experience that you bring to the table, and the way you work with partners and stakeholders in and out of government.”

“Nation-state adversaries work to identify and exploit technological points of leverage for maximum injury to American critical infrastructure,” he said. “Bad actors are using cyber as a means to disrupt and sow discord in our democratic institutions, even going so far as to incite violence in our nation’s disaffected against their fellow Americans. And across industries and asset sectors, cyber attacks for financial gain are ever more common, requiring that we practice cyber hygiene at every level.”

Extensive collaboration across government, industry and academia is critical for CISA to do its job and mitigate threats to critical infrastructure, McAleenan stressed, and “our nation is stronger when we counter and mitigate threats with a collective defense.”

“DHS is committed to providing CISA with the support it needs to address these imminent risks facing our nation’s critical infrastructure,” he said. “CISA has already done a great deal in its short history to build our national resilience.”

McAleenan focused on CISA’s work in election security, emphasizing that “it is DHS’s mission to safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values – and there are perhaps few more treasured national values than free and fair elections.”

In addition to taking “an aggressive lead” with the #Protect2020 campaign, CISA is hosting extensive tabletop exercises “ranging from the Tabletop the Vote series that rivals the scale of a federal election to exercises hosted down at the county and jurisdiction level.”

“We’ve developed and deployed new cybersecurity assessments to safeguard voting machines and secure e-pollbooks and election networks. We’ve developed guidance documents and established the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center. And we host a security operations center during elections where we are in constant contact with election officials, partisan organizations, social media platforms, and election vendors,” he said. “It’s this type of support that gives us confidence in the security measures being undertaken — confidence in 2018 and confidence going into 2020.”

Election security also means outreach to the American people, as “we know that foreign actors will continue to attempt to undermine our democracy through disinformation campaigns.”

“DHS is working with federal partners, industry, and non-government organizations to build national resilience to foreign influence through education and awareness,” McAleenan continued. “…DHS will continue to support the steps that CISA is taking to achieve their election security goals for 2020. At the end of the day, these goals should be collectively shared by us all – an attack on our nation’s free and fair elections is an attack on our democracy itself, and on the American way of life.”

PERSPECTIVE: Everyone Must Be a Modern-Day Minuteman to Protect Our Election

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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