Readying for what could be

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

National cybersecurity initiatives mean more resources locally

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate's Office, the Iowa Department of Homeland Security, the Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer, the Iowa National Guard and county auditors from across the state came together with information technology officers to learn how better to utilize new resources to protect Iowa's cybersecurity from potential intruders.

"This was an informational workgroup to let us know what kind of tools are available and the fact that there is a federal grant program that allows the state of Iowa to implement these tools," Clay County Auditor Marge Pitts said. "It's purpose is to ensure us and our public we have protections from cyberthreats of any varying degree and that the federal government is taking a closer look at the cybersecurity of election infrastructure."

At the meetings conducted in Des Moines June 20-21, state and federal officials laid out a six-pronged initiatives list with specific deadlines to help county auditors navigate past potential cybersecurity hazards.

"It was really interesting to me, as someone a littler older," Clay County Deputy of Elections Audrey Coffman said. "It was surprising how you don't even think of these things when you are doing elections. Not only safeguarding the election process, but the information we use on an election. All the information that comes out of the voter registration file, to keep that safe so somebody couldn't kidnap that and use it for bad purposes. It was a really eye-opening experience for me."

Clay County has completed the first two initiatives and begun the sixth initiative, but has yet to start its implementation. The initiatives the county still needs to complete include developing a county incident response plan, including a reporting matrix by Aug. 1; scheduling cyber hygiene scanning contact with the Department of Homeland Security by Sept. 1; and completing secure the human training and contacting Iowa voters support at the Iowa Secretary of State's Office by Sept. 1.

To go along with the initiatives, four new computer systems have been made available to counties to address prevention, detention and response to cyber threats. Clay County has already signed up for all four supports.

Though a new level of emphasis has been placed on cyber security in election processes by the federal and state government, Pitts pointed out this effort is part of a larger, ongoing process.

"The work being done by the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Iowa Department of Homeland Security has been ongoing since 2010," Pitts said. "This is not new on the state and federal level. I think there has been an increased concentration on it due to the federal government identification of election security as a critical infrastructure nationwide. It is not a really new concept, but the federal government's actions have allowed the flow of dollars and opportunities to our level."

Along with cyberthreats, the initiatives also address protocols necessary to eliminate human error in the handling of election materials.

"A human element is sometimes the weakest link in any process," Pitts said. "The Secretary of State's Office is going to be requiring that all officials in the election realm, meaning staff and anyone else who has contact with the process will be required to be certified that they have taken secure the human protocol."

While Pate's office said Iowa has not been hacked, Pitts said intrusion attempts from potential bad actors has become a modern reality.

"Iowa's records were scanned as well as probably 50 states in the United States," Pitts said. "We are constantly bombarded with intrusion attempts with scanning across our websites to see if there is any back door. We cannot be ignorant to the fact that there are bad actors who try to sell information for profit or obtain information to access, maybe even to manipulate data in some fashion. Iowa was not hacked. When you say hacked that means you have gotten in, you have stayed there for a while and you have gotten something for your efforts. That did not happen in Iowa."

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