DHS Responds to Media's Sensationalism on Russian Election Interference

Last week, NBC News ran a "news" story that was picked up by other outlets about how the Russians had penetrated U.S. voter systems.  The only problem?  This "news" was released last summer, when National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications Jeanette Manfra testified before Congress about attempts to access state voter registration systems.  Today, Ms. Manfra issued an official statement rebuking NBC News' misleading reporting:

“Recent NBC reporting has misrepresented facts and confused the public with regard to Department of Homeland Security and state and local government efforts to combat election hacking. First off, let me be clear: we have no evidence – old or new - that any votes in the 2016 elections were manipulated by Russian hackers. NBC News continues to falsely report my recent comments on attempted election hacking – which clearly mirror my testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last summer – as some kind of “breaking news,” incorrectly claiming a shift in the administration’s position on cyber threats. As I said eight months ago, a number of states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure. In the majority of cases, only preparatory activity like scanning was observed, while in a small number of cases, actors were able to access the system but we have no evidence votes were changed or otherwise impacted. 

"NBC’s irresponsible reporting, which is being roundly criticized elsewhere in the media and by security experts alike, undermines the ability of the Department of Homeland Security, our partners at the Election Assistance Commission, and state and local officials across the nation to do our incredibly important jobs. While we’ll continue our part to educate NBC and others on the threat, more importantly, the Department of Homeland Security and our state and local partners will continue our mission to secure the nation’s election systems. 

"To our state and local partners in the election community: there’s no question we’re making real and meaningful progress together. States will do their part in how they responsibly manage and implement secure voting processes. For our part, we’re going to continue to support with risk and vulnerability assessments, offer cyber hygiene scans, provide real-time threat intel feeds, issue security clearances to state officials, partner on incident response planning, and deliver cybersecurity training. The list goes on of how we’re leaning forward and helping our partners in the election community. We will not stop, and will stand by our partners to protect our nation’s election infrastructure and ensure that all Americans can have confidence in our democratic elections.”

Similarly, DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton tweeted:

The repeated inaccurate reporting by @NBCNews that government officials stand idly by is a disservice to every state and local election official across this great nation.

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) both issued statements correcting the facts of the "Russian hacking" narrative.

The facts are worth repeating here, given that the media wishes to newly sensationalize this story, perhaps fearing that the "Russians stole the election" narrative is collapsing.  1. There is no evidence that any votes were changed or even that any vote tallying systems were accessed.  2. There were scans or attempted hacks of 21 state systems, some of which were not even voter registration systems but other state systems like Department of Transportation systems.  3. Only one state voter registration system was accessed, that of Illinois, and no records were changed.  

As all these people and organizations point out, there are real cybersecurity concerns facing election officials across the country, and election officials are working hard to secure their systems against the latest threats.  The media is quick to sensationalize the issue, such as when DEF CON's efforts to hack electronic voting machines was major news last year, in the interest of clicks and page views, but America is ill-served by the "Russian hacking" narrative.  It feeds liberals' anti-speech agenda, undermines confidence in our election system (which, despite the threats, is remarkably secure), and ignores the hard work that election officials are doing to ensure that our elections are secure.