Home / Cybersecurity / If Russia Comes Calling, Feds and States United for Election Cybersecurity – NBCNews.com

If Russia Comes Calling, Feds and States United for Election Cybersecurity – NBCNews.com

President Donald Trump says allegations of Russian hacking in the 2016 election are a hoax — but his own agencies are working with states to beef up their cybersecurity, heeding the U.S. intelligence community’s warning: Moscow will be back in 2018.

The Department of Homeland Security, state and local election officials, the FBI, and a federal election council have joined forces to work through hacking scenarios and root out weaknesses in state election systems.

The project, in which states will have access to grants to upgrade election technology and tools to run simulations to examine holes in their systems, is a test for how well officials can work together to ward off potential election-related threats ahead of the midterm elections next year and the presidential election in 2020, experts said.

“If we get some evidence that something is happening, then we can do something about it. This a big step forward,” said David Becker, an election expert at the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research.

However, some states are wary of the feds’ reaching into an area that has traditionally been the province of the states — holding elections — and some experts also question whether something in which participation is voluntary can have any real impact.

The 28-member federal-state group, called the Election Critical Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, will hold its first public meeting this month.

During thelast election, there was a communication breakdown between the feds and the states, said Bob Kolasky, a top Homeland Security official who works with the council.

Related: Former DHS Chief Warns Russians Will Continue to Target U.S. Elections

“We were making relationships on the fly … not in a way that got the information as quickly as possible,” said Kolasky, the acting deputy undersecretary for national protection.

Last year, hackers alleged to be Russian agentstargeted many state systems, but DHS didn’t notify them until nearly a year later. Voter registration systems were targeted but not vote tabulation software.

“We were certainly concerned about the delay and, I think, for us, not getting clarity about information we weren’t aware of. There was definitely concern,” said Edgardo Cortes, Virginia’s elections commissioner.




Image: November 2016 election

Voters line up in voting booths to cast their ballots at Robious Elementary School in Chesterfield, Va., on Nov. 8.