DHS chief has 'a lot of confidence' in security of US electoral infrastructure


 (REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday he has “a lot of confidence” in the security of America’s electoral infrastructure despite concerns about intrusions by cybercriminals.

Johnson’s declaration, in response to a question from Fox News, follows recent hack attacks on two different state election websites that are believed to have been the work of Russian actors, according to sources. 

Those actions, which were disclosed in an August FBI bulletin distributed to law enforcement agencies and obtained by Fox News, urged states to contact their respective Boards of Elections to determine if they had experienced any similar activity. 

While he would not comment directly on the cyber activity, citing an ongoing FBI investigation into the matter, Johnson said he could assure the American public that DHS is up to the challenge of safeguarding state election systems. He added that election officials should consult the department on cybersecurity matters.

 “The Department of Homeland Security is in a position to shore up electoral infrastructure,” the DHS chief said. “We are in a position to help – to offer best practices, information sharing, vulnerability assessments, incident response.”

The recently disclosed hacks, which successfully compromised the election system of one state and targeted an election website in another state, have added fuel to already loud concerns over the potential for foreign nationals to influence the 2016 presidential race. 

Russian government-linked hackers are also believed to have carried out cyber breaches of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, seizing troves of information over the course of those attacks. 

 U.S. officials have yet to publicly name Russia as the perpetrator in either of those incidents and Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any involvement. 

Sources told Fox News that FBI investigators are working to determine the exact scope of the intrusions, which cybersecurity analysts fear could run deeper than already disclosed, given the hackers’ ability to “island hop” to other networks once an initial compromise is made.

For some IT security experts, any Russian connection would not be surprising, given the Kremlin’s recent reported history of using cyber activity as a clandestine tool for meddling in foreign affairs.

 “You’re seeing more and more manifestations of information warfare via cyber means to destabilize U.S. public opinion and undermine the trust and confidence in American institutions like, for example, the electoral system,” Strategic Cyber Ventures CEO Tom Kellermann told Fox News in a recent interview.

 As Fox News has previously reported, cybersecurity analysts have implicated Russia-linked cybermilitias with web-based attacks against a number of foreign entities over the past several years. Specific to the United States, multiple sources familiar with the research behind these incidents said that the Kremlin has targeted the Department of State, the Pentagon, the White House, and numerous private sector entities, including several media outlets. 

 While not directly naming Russia as the perpetrator in the DNC, DCCC, or state election system attacks, the United States’ top intelligence official did acknowledge the Kremlin’s persistent cyber activity. 

In agreeing with a recent public admission by President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper acknowledged “the Russians hack our systems all the time, not just government but also corporate and personal systems.”

 Speaking Wednesday at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, D.C., the DNI added a blunt prediction for the nation’s path forward when it comes to dealing with the cyber threat.

 “Cyber will continue to be a huge problem for the next presidential administration, as it has been a challenge for this one,” Clapper said. 


Matthew Dean is Fox News Channel's Department of Justice & Federal Law Enforcement producer. Follow him on Twitter @MattFirewall.