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Homeland Officials to Talk Security    03/21 06:11

   Senators are expected to press Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen 
on the department's efforts to secure state election systems as the Senate 
Intelligence Committee launches an effort to safeguard against foreign meddling 
in this year's elections.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senators are expected to press Homeland Security 
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on the department's efforts to secure state election 
systems as the Senate Intelligence Committee launches an effort to safeguard 
against foreign meddling in this year's elections.

   Nielsen will testify Wednesday along with Jeh Johnson, who was President 
Barack Obama's head of Homeland Security when Russian agents targeted election 
systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 general election. Senators on the panel 
have criticized both administrations for not moving quickly enough to stem the 
Russian threat.

   The hearing follows a Tuesday news conference in which committee members 
from both parties said government efforts to protect state and local elections 
from Russian cyberattacks haven't gone far enough. Federal warnings last time 
did not provide enough information or in some cases go to the right people, the 
senators said, though they reiterated that there was no evidence votes were 

   Top U.S. intelligence officials have said they've seen indications Russian 
agents are preparing a new round of election interference this year.

   The committee is recommending that states make sure voting machines have 
paper audit trails and aren't capable of being connected to the internet. 
Senators also are pushing for better communication among the various U.S. 
intelligence agencies and federal, state and local governments about cyber 
threats and vulnerabilities in computer systems.

   The committee's recommendations preview an election security report expected 
to be released in full in the coming weeks. It is the first of four reports 
planned as part of the panel's wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling 
in the 2016 election.

   Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the 
top Democrat on the panel, released the recommendations ahead of Wednesday's 
hearing. Even with Republican and Democratic support, it's unclear if the 
recommendations will translate into legislation.

   Burr said the committee's investigation revealed that the Russian cyber 
effort exposed "some of the key gaps" in the security of the nation's election 
infrastructure. He said the committee wants to maintain state control of 
elections, but the federal government should be doing more to help.

   "Clearly we've got to get some standards in place that assure every state 
that at the end of the day they can certify their vote totals," he said.

   Senators are also urging state and local election officials to take 
advantage of resources provided by the Homeland Security Department, such as 
comprehensive risk assessments and remote cyberscanning of their networks to 
spot vulnerabilities. Overall, experts say far too little has been done to 
shore up those vulnerabilities in 10,000 U.S. voting jurisdictions that mostly 
run on obsolete and imperfectly secured technology.

   As of last month, just 14 states had requested risk assessments and 30 had 
asked for remote cyberscans of their networks, according to Homeland Security 
officials. But even that was straining resources, since many of those risk 
assessments have not been completed.

   Illinois, which held the second-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, requested 
the assessment in late January but it was not completed in time for the primary.

   The senators are also recommending that states consider implementing "more 
widespread, statistically sound audits of election results." Currently, 32 
states and the District of Columbia require postelection audits, with three 
others conducting such audits under some circumstances.

   Cybersecurity experts say the best approach would be for states to require 
risk-limiting audits, a type of an audit that uses statistical methods and is 
considered a more rigorous process. So far, three states --- Colorado, Rhode 
Island and Virginia --- have passed legislation to require them. Other states, 
including Georgia, are weighing legislation this year that would implement 
risk-limiting audits.

   There's no evidence that any hack in the November 2016 election affected 
election results, but the attempts scared state election officials. DHS took 
nearly a year to inform the affected states of hacking attempts or suspicious 
cyberactivity, blaming it in part on a lack of security clearances. Lawmakers 
in both parties have pressed the department on why it took so long.

   Warner has said he thinks the process to prevent any compromise of election 
systems needs to be more robust, especially since President Donald Trump has 
not addressed the matter as an urgent problem.

   "Every one of Mr. Trump's appointees in law enforcement and national 
security acknowledge what an ongoing threat Russia is," Warner said Tuesday. 
"It's pretty amazing to me we've had the director of the FBI, the director of 
national intelligence and the head of the NSA say in public testimony within 
the last month that they've received no direction from the White House to make 
election security a priority."


   Read the Senate Intelligence Committee recommendations:


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