Secretary of State Frank LaRose highlights Ohio election security measures at Capitol Hill hearing | #itsecurity | #infosec


WASHINGTON, D. C. — When someone plugged an unauthorized laptop into Lake County’s government computer network during Ohio’s 2021 primary elections to show its election system was hackable, the effort ‘failed and failed miserably” thanks to rigorous security measures taken by election officials throughout Ohio, Secretary of State Frank LaRose told a congressional committee on Wednesday.

A 2019 security directive requires Ohio’s 88 counties to comply with a 34-point checklist of physical and cybersecurity requirements to keep out “bad guys,” LaRose testified at a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing on threats to election security and infrastructure.

Because all county election computer systems are siloed off from other county offices, “anyone thinking they can use the county computer system to infiltrate the board of elections would find they had hit a hard brick wall,” LaRose said. Even if they somehow plugged a computer into the county board of elections system, it would be immediately blocked because it would be recognized as an unauthorized computer, LaRose continued.

“What this perpetrator may not have realized is that there is a completely separate element of election infrastructure which is never connected to the internet, not even capable of an internet connection, and which is rigorously tested before every election and audited after every election,” LaRose said. “Anything that touches a ballot – scanners, voting machines, and tabulators – are 100% air-gapped. Simply put, the Lake County attempted breach never had a chance of succeeding because of the forward-thinking cybersecurity protocols we developed in 2019 and the county boards of elections that worked so hard to implement them.”

Federal and state authorities have been investigating the attempted breach in Lake County. The Washington Post reported that public-records requests show that John Hamercheck, a Lake County commissioner and retired police officer, used his security badge to swipe into the fifth floor offices several times when the laptop was connected to the county network. LaRose’s testimony did not name Hamercheck.

Other election officials at the hearing described how “lies and misinformation about how elections are run and about the people who run them have proliferated to an unprecedented degree” since the 2020 election, creating an atmosphere of distrust in the nation’s elections and led to threats against election officials.

Former Orange County, California Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley read a sampling of the threats and harassing messages his colleagues around the country have received: “You rigged my election”; “We are going to try you and hang you”; “We are coming for you”; “There will be blood on the ballots and blood on you.” In addition to threatening emails and text messages, he said election workers have had their personal information doxxed, faced protests in front of their homes, and endured threats against their families, leading to many election officials leaving the profession.

“While the effects on the individuals are devastating, the potential blow to democracy should not be dismissed,” Kelley told the committee. “Controversial political statements with inflammatory accusations have the potential to incite continued harassment or violence from the public.”

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said that after she was doxxed, she had to leave her house for weeks under state police protection, and her office has seen an uptick since 2020 in “social media trolling, aggrieved emails and calls into our office, and other communications that parrot the misinformation circulating widely in the national discourse.” Her office’s effort to directly combat election misinformation through a new website “was followed by “pointed threats serious enough to be referred to law enforcement.”

“Growing distrust about our election systems leads to either apathy or indignation, both of which will have detrimental effects on our entire system of government,” Oliver said. “For voters, I fear that the flood of misinformation will compel them to lose more and more trust in the system, and they will no longer participate in our democracy.”

LaRose said officials on Ohio election boards send a memo to their law enforcement partners before each election to make sure they can safeguard everyone involved in the election process and equips all the state’s election officials with police radios so they can communicate directly with law enforcement if there’s an emergency or violence.

He said the “silver lining” in the current interest in election security is an opportunity to educate people about the state’s election security measures. He said voting officials in Ohio try to educate people about the safeguards and ensure the information is universally available. He said some county elections boards set up booths at county fairs where people can vote for their favorite “deep fried fair food, or whatever” and engage with voters about how voting machines work.

He said the coronavirus pandemic prompted the state to “get creative about poll worker recruitment” and worked with lawyers, accountants, and realtors to provide continuing education credit in exchange for serving on election day. It also recruited veterans, high school seniors, and patrons of beauty salons and barbershops to serve as poll workers.

Doing so “created a legion of ambassadors – an army of truth-tellers who can speak firsthand about the lengths Ohio goes to ensure the integrity of our elections. You can’t put a price on that,” LaRose testified.

He recommended that all chief elections officers around the country have a chief information officer on staff to spearhead cybersecurity efforts, that states process absentee ballots ahead of time to help deliver election results in a timely fashion, and that other states follow his example of encouraging “white hat, or ethical hackers” to probe their systems for any vulnerabilities so they can be fixed.

“Integrity matters,” he continued. “It’s what our elections are built upon. As Thomas Jefferson put it, our government derives its ‘just powers from the consent of the governed.’ We can’t maintain that consent if we aren’t always moving forward and finding ways to balance election security and accessibility.”



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