The Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division is mounting the largest operation to secure a U.S. election, aiming to prevent a repeat of Russia’s 2016 interference and to ward off new threats posed by Iran and China.
On Election Day, DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will launch a 24/7 virtual war room, to which election officials across the nation can dial in at any time to share notes about suspicious activity and work together to respond. The agency will also pass along classified information from intelligence agencies about efforts they detect from adversaries seeking to undermine the election and advise states on how to protect against such attacks.
“I anticipate possibly thousands of local election officials coming in to share information in real time, to coordinate, to track down what’s real and what’s not, separate fact from fiction on the ground,” said Matt Masterson, CISA’s senior cybersecurity adviser, who has helped lead election preparations. “We’ll be able to sort through what’s happening and identify: Is this a typical election event or is this something larger?”
The operation will run for days or weeks until winners are clear in most races — and potentially until the election is formally certified in December. “We’ll remain stood up until the [election] community tells us, ‘Okay, we’re good, you can stand down,’ ” Masterson said.
The wide-ranging operation is the culmination of four years during which CISA has grown from a backwater agency that was largely unknown outside Washington to the main federal government liaison to a nationwide ecosystem of officials running the elections.
CISA’s growth is especially notable because it has happened despite an abiding lack of interest in election security from President Trump. He has held only one Cabinet-level meeting on the topic during his presidency and generally views discussion about Russian interference as threatening the legitimacy of his 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, even though…