U.S. spending bill to finance $380 million for election cyber security

March 23, 2018

 

A huge federal government spending bill disclosed on Wednesday contains $380 million to help protect U.S. polling methods from cyber attacks, in what would be Congress’ first solid steps to boost election safety as the 2016 presidential campaign was tarnished by accusations of Russian interference.

The financing would provide states with grants to assist them to buy more secure voting machines, carry out post-election checks and improve election cyber security teaching.

The spending bill also incorporates a $307 million raise over the Trump administration’s request for the FBI’s financial plan, which appropriators said would be used in part for counter-intelligence attempts to safeguard against Russian cyber attacks.

Americans take part in an election in November in midterm elections, which U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly cautioned in recent weeks might be targeted by Russia or others seeking to disturb the process.

It was not immediately evident when the financing would be made available or if it would be provided in time to make a difference for states before the 2018 midterm polls.

Republican Senator Richard Burr said the requirement for better election safety is “urgent,” however, it already might be too late to make a difference for the 2020 presidential voting.

The financing might be helpful for states that don’t have a paper ballot backup count of votes cast on electronic machines, which safety experts say is crucial to make sure no meddling has happened. Five states presently have no paper backup, whereas another eight have some electoral districts deprived of paper backups.

Testifying to legislators, Department of Homeland Safety Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said not having a confirmable audit in some states amounted to a “national security concern.”

The division informed last year that 21 of the 50 states had undergone initial examining of their election systems from Russian hackers in 2016 and that a small number of systems were undermined. It said there is no proof any votes were actually changed.

National appropriators also informed the agency’s cyber unit would be provided $26 million to give help in safeguarding election infrastructure.

State election administrators repeatedly have said more federal financing would help them better safeguard systems from hackers. In spite of inaction from Congress, virtually all states have taken at least some measures to buy more safety equipment, increase the use of paper ballots, improve cyber teaching or seek federal help, as per groups that follow election safety.