In the United States voting is a right, and free and fair elections are the backbone of our democracy. Since our Nation’s founding, thousands of American citizens have fought and died to defend that right. It is a key American principle, preserved in landmark pieces of legislation like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 15th, and 19th Amendments.
Citizens need confidence in our electoral system. American elections have been a target of foreign adversaries. These threats are constantly evolving, so defending our elections needs vigilance and innovation.
As the lead federal agency responsible for election security, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) started #Protect2020. This program is a national call to action to enhance the security and resilience of the Nation’s election infrastructure. CISA works with state and local election officials, responsible for approximately 8,800 election jurisdictions across the country, to find security gaps ahead of and during elections. #Protect2020 also includes engaging with the electorate and political parties, campaigns, and committees at the national level.
To help guard against cyberattacks, CISA encourages election officials to take some basic steps:
- Patch applications and operating systems. Most attacks target apps and operating systems. Patching these with the latest updates reduces the number of entry points for hackers.
- Restrict administrative privileges. This can prevent malicious software from running and limit its spread through a network.
- Use firewalls. Easy network access means a network is more vulnerable to attacks. Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain locations or apps and allow approved data through.
- Report an intrusion or request technical assistance. If you believe your network has been compromised, contact CISA (Central@cisa.dhs.gov) or the FBI through a local field office or the FBI’s Cyber Division (CyWatch@ic.fbi.gov).
These steps can play a huge part in stopping adversaries looking to access or manipulate voter registration data and interfere with election websites and databases through ransomware attacks and phishing emails and texts.
But election security is about more than just good cybersecurity. CISA also works with state and local governments to advise them on protecting the schools, houses of worship, and community centers that often serve as polling places. At stakeholder request, CISA deploys Protective Security Advisors (PSAs) across the country to conduct physical security assessments and offer advice on mitigating risks at election infrastructure locations like including polling sites, election offices, ballot counting locations, and other facilities.
As state and local election officials grapple with how to conduct elections safely and securely in the face of COVID-19, CISA has partnered with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the Election Infrastructure Subsector GCC and SCC to develop a series of voluntary informational resources to assist them. These documents offer considerations on topics related to expanded implementation of absentee and mail voting, modifying in-person voting to maximize voter and election worker safety, and communicating with the public about what to expect around their voting experience. As always, CISA recommends that voters consult trusted sources like their state or local election official for accurate information on how to vote.
#Protect2020 also offers useful information for voters on how they can be resilient against foreign information operations. These resources include how to spot and help stop foreign interference and how the debate about pineapple pizza can be used to illustrate how disinformation campaigns attempt to influence voter opinions and behavior (no, really).
The most important thing for everyone to keep in mind is that for many voters, Election Day 2020 is going to be different from what they are used to. As a voter, keep in mind “Three P’s” this election season: Preparation, Participation, and Patience.
- Preparation – Understand how registration and voting processes may have changed in your state this year. Have a plan to cast your ballot and consult trusted sources of information—such as your state or local election official—when making that plan.
- Participation – Look for opportunities to get involved. It’s likely that many jurisdictions will experience election worker shortages this year. If you are healthy and able, consider volunteering.
- Patience – Because of changes in the election administration process in many states, we may not know the outcome on the evening of November 3. Our adversaries may look for ways to exploit that uncertainty through disinformation. Know that results are unofficial until certified, and consult trusted sources for information before, during, and after the election.
Visit CISA’s Election Security page to learn more about our services and our work with those on the front lines of elections to make sure all votes are counted—and counted correctly.