WASHINGTON – Election security was not a mission initially envisioned for the Department of Homeland Security, the sprawling department after the Sept. 11 attacks. But it is now one of the highest priorities, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Wednesday.
Nielsen said in a speech the department must adapt as threats change — and now, the greatest threats come from malicious “nation-state” want to disrupt the democracy.
“DHS was founded 15 years ago to prevent another 9/11,” she said. “I believe that an attack of this size is now more likely to reach us online than in a plane.”
The department is charged with the help of states to protect election infrastructure, including any cyber threats, and the Trumpet administration has been criticized for not doing enough ahead of the coming elections.
The U.S. intelligence community has said Russia had tried to influence the 2016 election to take advantage Advantage. Officials have not detected any attempts to corrupt elections, systems, or information leaks rivaling that effort.
But there is serious online targeting of the political system, usually on three fronts — efforts to get in political campaigns and institutions and expose corruption of data; probes of electoral systems, it is possible to change the selector, the data and results; and fake ads and accounts on social media used for spreading of misinformation and fan of the disagreements among the Americans.
In the past few weeks, Microsoft reported that it had disabled six Russian launched websites, disguised as AMERICAN think tanks and the Senate sites. Facebook and security firm FireEye revealed to influence campaigns originating in Iran and Russia, which led the social network to remove 652 impostor accounts, aimed at the Americans. The office of the Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said hackers tied to a nation-state had sent phishing emails to old campaign e-mail accounts.
“The cyber attacks are now greater than the risk of physical attacks,” Nielsen said in a speech to a number of the 240,000-person department are also responsible for natural disasters, and immigration. “Don’t get me wrong: Terrorists, criminals and foreign adversaries continue to threaten the physical safety of our people. But cyberspace is now the most active battlefield, and the attack surface extends to every American home.”
To succeed, Nielsen said, private companies need to be more involved in the protection and sharing of information, the Congress should give Homeland Security the tools to better organize cybersecurity efforts, and the member states should be auditable election systems to show that the votes were not tampered with.
Nielsen’s comments came as Facebook and Twitter executives defending their businesses on Capitol Hill, say they are trying to root out foreign interests seek to create controversy as the November elections near. Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, testified before the Senate intelligence committee, but there was an empty chair in place of Google older Alphabet, which declined to its top executive.