Syracuse, N.Y. — Voting systems across the nation are vulnerable to cyber attacks in the upcoming presidential election, but New York is better prepared than many, officials said.
Beginning last year, a security contractor hired by the state went through an 88-point check list with each board of elections in the state. The potential for problems runs the gamut — from whether employees know how to avoid opening phishing emails to whether the main computers are kept in a locked office, said Todd Valentine, co-executive director of the New York State Board of Elections.
Valentine and other officials spoke about elections cyber-security at a briefing at Onondaga Community College today that was hosted by U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus.
Each county will receive a report of problems it should fix before November. The state also will have an overview of the range of security problems it has found that it will make public.
Katko said he wanted to assure voters that their vote will count in the 2020 election.
New York, he said, is far better prepared than many other states. He because all of the voting machines use paper ballots and those ballots are kept, the votes in New York are safeguarded from hacking trouble.
Central New York had at least two major cyber attacks this summer. The Syracuse school district and Onondaga County library system were both hobbled by a ransomware attack in July.
Though the Onondaga County Board of Elections is not directly connected to either of those systems, it is linked to the county’s system. Because of that, Valentine said, it was cut off from the state’s voter registration database when the attack happened.
It took weeks for the both systems to recover from the attack.
Elections commissioners from Onondaga County and Oswego County both attended the briefing. They said they need more IT help to deal with the amount of technology that’s now required for elections.
“This is our new normal,” said Onondaga County Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny.
This past November, a technical problem crashed part of the county’s results on election night. The county attempted to upload a file of more than 400 election district results from early voting. The file was too big for the vendor, but that wasn’t clear ahead of time.
The IT officials who were at the elections office had to wake up another IT worker so he could come down and make a web file of the results for everyone to use until the problem was figured out.
For more complicated problems, especially ones that appear to be cyber attacks, the state has a rapid response team it can dispatch to help county elections officials, Valentine said. That team was dispatched 30 times last year. If there’s a suspicion of a cyber attack, they often bring in the FBI for help.
Katko, who serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, said the state received $425 million to help prepare for these elections.
“It’s about re-enforcing the public confidence,” Katko said. “They want to know their vote counts.”
Marnie Eisenstadt is a reporter who writes about people and public affairs in Central New York. Have an idea or question? Contact her anytime: email | twitter| Facebook | 315-470-2246
Thanks for visiting Syracuse.com. Quality local journalism has never been more important, and your subscription matters. Not a subscriber yet? Please consider supporting our work.