CHICAGO, Dec. 7, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, DEFCON – the world's largest, longest running hacker conference – joined forces with the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy to host an event on cybersecurity and U.S. elections infrastructure. The event featured a panel of leaders from the cyber industry, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the national security community. It also featured the release of an "Election Security Plan" authored by Noah Praetz, Director of Elections with the Cook County, IL Clerk's Office.
Mr. Praetz's Election Security Plan represented the first-of-its-kind to be put forth by a local official since news broke that Russia attempted to infiltrate voting networks in at least 21 U.S. states during the 2016 election. The plan outlines several strategies for stakeholders to better defend, detect, and recover from cyber threats aimed at voting equipment, systems, networks and databases. Specifically, it describes "a challenging, comprehensive, yet achievable list of actions" for both federal leaders to support the more than 9,000 voting jurisdictions around the country, as well as the responsibilities of state and local officials.
"This is a critical time when Americans need to be reassured that their vote is secure – and I am proud that my election administration colleagues at the state and local level are the ones serving valiantly on the front lines," said Praetz, underscoring the need for local action backed by federal support. "Like good servants, these officials will tell you they can continue to hold the line. But they need to be fortified by resources from the federal government, and they need guidance in terms of what line they even can hold."
Today's event comes at a time when leaders are increasingly referring to election security as a national security priority. In early 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated elections as a critical infrastructure subsector, giving the federal government more authority to take action. Sean McCloskey from the DHS's Office of Cyber Security and Communications participated in the event, highlighting DHS's current role with the Elections Security Task Force. Less attention has been placed, however, on the perspectives of state and local officials.
"Recently, we've seen a groundswell of bipartisan national security and cyber leaders uniting to frame the problem and highlight what Russia or other nefarious actors could do to our democracy," said Jake Braun, a cybersecurity lecturer at University of Chicago and DEFCON Voting Village representative who emceed the event. "Now its encouraging to see state and local leaders like Mr. Praetz – and many others who helped influence his plan – coming together to offer solutions. With the full funding and resources to do their job, there's no question they can better secure our democracy for 2018 and beyond."
The event, which was held at the historic International House on University of Chicago's campus, represented the third in a series of high-profile events hosted by DEFCON to build awareness around cyber vulnerabilities facing our democracy. Earlier this year, in response to Russia's cyberattacks in 2016, DEFCON hosted a "Voting Village" demonstration at its annual conference in Vegas. The Village assembled 25+ pieces of election equipment – including voting machines and pollbooks still widely used in U.S. elections today – and made them accessible to 1000+ hackers who were encouraged to test the technology and expose cyber vulnerabilities for educational purposes.
A full report on the Voting Village's findings is available online. To learn more, please visit the Voting Village on Twitter @VotingVillageDC.
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