Utah had a few snags with voting on Tuesday — long lines at scant polling locations garnered some attention — but, fortunately, hacking of election systems was not among them.
The state’s chief elections officer, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, says that while cybersecurity has been a top priority for several years, Utah was among the first to begin “coordinating with the federal government on digital security issues.” He says that for the last year cybersecurity surrounding election processes has been “our No. 1 priority.”
And it showed on Tuesday evening. Would-be troublemakers launched several hundred million attacks on Utah voting processes, and not one of them successfully breached the state’s defenses.
Tuesday night's team of experts monitoring digital traffic in the cybersecurity center at the Capitol included staffers who work full time to keep Utah government digital assets safe, as well as representatives from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Utah center, which the state established in the past year to provide a headquarters for the cybersecurity team, was also connected to the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an organization that provides real-time information about digital threats in all 50 states. Through that system, Utah election officials found out about a cyberattack in Arizona, which gave them time to take evasive action here.
The volume of attacks by foreign governments on Utah election processes has risen dramatically since the last election and spiked at more than 1 billion per day with the announcement that Mitt Romney would run for office. Romney, of course, has been an outspoken critic of Russia.
But it isn’t just Utah that drew the attention of cyber troublemakers. Hackers went after election systems in every state.
Utah benefited this year from $4.1 million made available through the federal Help America Vote Act. That funding, plus $250,000 from the state, was meted out to provide upgraded voting machines and increase web security. Then, the state’s foresight made almost all ballots of the mail-in and paper variety. Additionally, Utah technology experts made certain the mechanism for counting votes was never connected to the internet or digital networks that could be accessed from the outside.
The state also took advantage of national security experts who made themselves available to administrators and others to provide education and best-practices security measures.6 comments on this story
This kind of foresight and attention to detail on the part of state officials helped to make certain that every Utahn who marked a ballot could do so with the knowledge that those votes would be counted fairly and accurately.
It would have been difficult a few decades ago to imagine a scenario in which basic democratic processes could fall victim to nefarious foreign actors thousands of miles away, but that’s the reality of the digital age. Fortunately, the country is waking up to the magnitude of such threats and is taking the right steps to make sure the exercise of fundamental rights maintains its integrity.