Homeland Security officials at the Washington elections command post said they had detected some “run-of-the-mill” scanning of elections systems a little past noon on Election Day.
Scanning of systems is something many hackers try to do routinely to search for vulnerabilities. In physical terms, scanning is the equivalent of a burglar walking through a neighborhood to see if any of the houses are unlocked.
Homeland Security officials said that the scanning activity is fairly normal but they have not yet identified where the scanning is coming from. “At this point, there’s not enough information to tie it back to any single actor,” a Homeland Security official said. “Certainly nothing that would be attributed back to Russia.”
Homeland Security agents have teamed up with other federal agencies, including the FBI, state and local election officials and representatives from the Republican and Democratic national committees, to monitor the polls and social media, with a close eye on any signs of foreign interference in the midterm elections.
The goal is to prevent a repeat of 2016, when Moscow-linked entities inflamed political tensions through ad buys on social media platforms. U.S. intelligence agencies later concluded they scanned elections systems in at least 21 states in an attempt to breach them.
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Homeland Security “mission managers” have been on watch for foreign influence attempts since Sept. 21. Last week, the department established a National Situational Awareness Room, where states can share information regarding any attempted hacks or other nefarious activity. As of Tuesday morning, 20 states had logged into the National Situational Awareness Room, but Homeland Security officials said they expect that number to rise throughout the day.
The department also set up an unclassified operations center at its headquarters where representatives from the National Association of Secretaries of State, Democratic and Republican national committees, FBI and state election officials can monitor and share information throughout the day. The unclassified center will complement the department’s classified hub, where other federal agencies will keep tabs on the elections.
The department also has deployed several hundred officials across the country, with someone from the department in every state to assist the states’ chief election officials identify potential foreign interference and communicate any problems to the public.
As of Tuesday morning, the department had yet to see any attempts of election interference through social media or attempted hacks on election infrastructure, but warned that attempts to disrupt American democracy won’t end when the polls close.
“The electoral process doesn’t stop at midnight tonight,” a Homeland Security official said. “Election counting, the canvassing, the audit process through certification, goes well into, in some cases, December. So we’re going to need to be keeping an eye out for these kinds of influence operations and the efforts to undermine confidence in the electoral process.”