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'The Threat Is Real': Homeland Security Official Discusses Cyber Security and Florida Elections

Supervisor of Elections 2018
Caitie Switalski
Cyber security officers from the federal Department of Homeland Security headlined a workshop Wednesday, to lay out best practices for elections offices in case of a cyber incident.

The words “Russian hacking” were never uttered, but an official from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that the 2016 presidential election played a big role in elevating the importance of cybersecurity for state and national elections. 

Matthew Masterson, a U.S. senior cybersecurity advisor, spoke about hacking threats at the annual conference for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale. He said Florida is actively trying to harden most of its systems in advance of November's elections.


“Obviously elections infrastructure is in the national conversation in part because of what happened in 2016,” he said. “Florida’s taking really important steps to help ensure the resilience of the process.” 

DHS officially placed elections infrastructure on the "critical infrastructure" list about 16 months ago, meaning the federal government considers elections vulnerable to threats. Two federal councils have been created to oversee extra solutions. 

“What backups do you have in place? Have you tested those backups?” Masterson asked supervisors. 

The workshop pushed election workers to make a plan for cyber security attacks the same way they would for handling hurricanes. 

Brenda Snipes, Broward County’s Supervisor of Elections, said Broward is not ready for a cyber security attack. However, her office has started taking steps for November's election, including ordering a new server.

“We’ve been doing hurricane plans and security plans, that’s just been a standard part of what we do, so now it seems that we need to have a whole new section on cyber security,” Snipes said.

Earlier this month, a judge ruled against Snipes, saying her office violated federal and state laws when it prematurely destroyed ballots from a 2016 congressional race. 

Snipes said that shouldn’t give people concern about how she runs her office.

“You have to wonder why the scrutiny is as intense as it is,” she said. “I’ve been here almost 15 years now.”

State officials are expected to monitor the Broward elections office during the upcoming election. 

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.