The busiest primary day of the election cycle started early for the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency.
Tornadoes in Tennessee caused Chris Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, to hop on a call with Tennessee election officials “in the middle of the night" to discuss election day plans. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Krebs called the tornadoes a “curveball” that Tennessee election officials handled well as they implemented their contingency plans.
But as results were coming in, one senior CISA official told reporters that the rest of the day had proceed relatively smoothly across the 14 states and one territory that held primary elections March 3, with no reports of malicious cyber activity and no spike in disinformation, though the “steady drumbeat” of false information continued.
The senior CISA official told reporters that the day demonstrated the “importance and value of having incident response plans and contingency plans for any number of scenarios.”
“Those are the sorts of things that we continue to work with state and local officials on the various scenarios that may take place,” a senior CISA official told reporters on a conference call. “And there are additional scenarios we haven’t even seen yet that could come into play in the next couple months. We’ve got to continue doing that threat modeling, that red teaming to get a little creative and just so that we’re prepared for just about anything.”
The day was marked by a natural disaster, the California secretary of state website going down, IT pitfalls and robocalls spreading false information in Texas — though a senior CISA official said the calls could have been an accident.
“Pretty much everybody did a great job handling the challenges they were faced with today,” a senior CISA official said.
CISA hosted state and local election officials during the day in both classified and unclassified settings to exchange information. That work Tuesday provided “good items for action as we move forward and build towards November,” the second senior CISA official said. The official said that CISA could improve its responsiveness and speed up the rate at which the agency sorts through information.
After grappling with technology challenges, state officials will also turn internally to assess where their work can improve, the first senior CISA official said. Many of them have other contests before Election Day in November that will provide more learning opportunities to build on the lessons of Super Tuesday.
“They’ll [states] be doing ... after action reviews over the course of the next several days to weeks, and they’ll be implementing some some of their own improvement plans,” the first senior CISA official said.
Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.