NJ getting help to protect election systems from cyber attacks
New Jersey has hired a private contractor and contacted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to scan and monitor the state’s election systems to ensure they’re protected from hackers.
Voter registration sites in more than 20 states have been the target of hacking attempts, and databases in Arizona and Illinois were successfully breached, federal officials told Congress and reporters in Washington. Eighteen states have obtained cybersecurity help from the Department of Homeland Security, its chief said.
New Jersey is less vulnerable than other states to such hacks because people have to manually fill out registration forms and submit them to their home counties, said Christopher Rodriguez, director of the state Office of Homeland Security.
“Those recent reports of breaches underscore the reality of the threat of cyberattacks to election systems,” Rodriguez said. “But New Jersey doesn’t offer its citizens the option to register to vote online, and that really does reduce the likelihood that a malicious cyber actor could penetrate our systems by accessing public-facing websites, as was the case in Arizona.”
Rodriguez said the state has proactively enhanced the cybersecurity of New Jersey election system through guidance to county officials on topics such as monitoring, risk and vulnerability assessments, penetration tests, hardening controls, security awareness training and continuity of operations plans.
It stepped up those efforts in recent months, he said.
“When the reports of the breaches in Arizona and Illinois came to light, we contracted with a third-party vendor to do vulnerability scans and monitor our systems for suspicious activity,” Rodriguez said.
“And even after we conduct those security tests through our third-party vendor, we are working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to do additional vulnerability scans on our systems, which will be completed before Election Day,” he said.
Recently, the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee advanced a resolution urging the secretary of state, the state’s chief election official, to assure the public and Legislature that election systems are safe and protected from foreign hackers and other intrusions.
Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, voted against the resolution, saying that even the National Security Agency can’t guarantee systems won’t be hacked.
“We’re asking the secretary of state to give us an assurance that she cannot give us. If she could give us that assurance, she should be in Washington,” Thompson said.
In addition to county offices, the state Office of Homeland Security is working with the Secretary of State’s Office, Division of Elections and Office of Information Technology, Rodriguez said.
“What I can assure the public is that we are doing everything within our power and resources to ensure that those election systems are secure,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez encouraged state and local officials to contact the New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell at email@example.com or cyber.nj.gov to report suspicious activity for cybersecurity on their systems.
“That allows the state to have vital intelligence and information that it can share with other entities not only within our state but across the country, which makes us more cybersecure in the long run,” he said.