Today the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Vol. 1 of its report (PDF) on Russian attempts at election hacking in 2016. However, much of the information in it has already been released -- like knowledge that hacking attempts reached all 50 states in one form or another -- or is blacked out. As the New York Times notes, information redacted includes some of the key lessons for 2020.
In public statements about the report, senators in both parties on the committee noted there is still work remaining to be done to ensure election security in 2020. Despite that, earlier today Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the consideration of election security bills. In response, Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement that "We shouldn't ask a county election IT employee to fight a war against the full capabilities and vast resources of Russia's cyber army. That approach failed in 2016 and it will fail again."
Key Findings and Recommendations:
- The Russian government directed extensive activity against U.S. election infrastructure. The Committee found the activity directed at the state and local level began in at least 2014 and carried into at least 2017. The Committee has seen no evidence that any votes were changed or that any voting machines were manipulated.
- Russian efforts exploited the seams between federal authorities and capabilities, and protection for the states. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are, by design, limited in domestic cybersecurity authorities. State election officials, who have primacy in running elections, were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a hostile nation-state actor.
- DHS and FBI warnings to the states in the late summer and fall of 2016 did not provide enough information or go to the appropriate people. The Committee found that while the alerts were actionable, they provided no clear reason for states to take the threat more seriously than other warnings.
- DHS has redoubled its efforts to build trust with the states and deploy resources to assist in securing elections. Since 2016, DHS has made great strides in learning how election procedures vary across states and how to best assist those states. The Committee determined DHS's work to bolster states' cybersecurity has likely been effective but believes more needs to be done to coordinate efforts.
- Russian activities demand renewed attention to vulnerabilities in U.S. voting infrastructure. Cybersecurity for electoral infrastructure at the state and local level was sorely lacking in 2016. Despite increased focus over the last three years, some of these vulnerabilities, including aging voting equipment, remain. As states look to replace machines that are now out of date, they should purchase more secure voting machines. At a minimum, any machine purchased going forward should have a voter-verified paper trail.
- Congress should evaluate the results of the $380 million in state election security grants allocated in 2018. States should be able to use grant funds provided under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to improve cybersecurity in a variety of ways, including hiring additional IT staff, updating software, and contracting vendors to provide cybersecurity services. When those funds are spent, Congress should evaluate the results and consider an additional appropriation to address remaining insecure voting machines and systems.
- DHS and other federal government entities remain respectful of the limits of federal involvement in state election systems. America's decentralized election system can be a strength against cybersecurity threats. However, the federal government and states should each be aware of their own cybersecurity limitations and know both how and when to obtain assistance. States should remain firmly in the lead on running elections, and the federal government should ensure they receive the necessary resources and information.
- The United States must create effective deterrence. The United States should communicate to adversaries that it will view an attack on its election infrastructure as a hostile act and respond accordingly. The U.S. government should not limit its response to cyber activity; rather, it should create a menu of potential responses that will send a clear message and create significant costs for the perpetrator.