Washington (CNN)Attempts to hack elections will continue in the future, the secretary of Homeland Security said Wednesday — so election officials better prepare.
Secretary John Kelly was speaking about the difficult balance his agency must strike — on the one hand protecting the nation from cyber intruders while on the other, respecting state and local governments’ autonomy.
Kelly said at an event at the Center for a New American Security that his agency will offer to help states and localities on an entirely “voluntary basis” — but strongly encouraged officials to get help from somewhere.
“I would say that if they don’t want our help, and even if they do want our help, they’d be well advised to hire some very, very, very good hired cyber guns, if you will, to help protect, because this is the way of the future,” Kelly said.
He added the threat is imminent.
“We have an election coming up in 18 months,” he noted, referring to the 2018 midterm elections.
While experts are highly confident that no votes were changed or miscounted as a result of cyber interference in the 2016 election, efforts by Russian government-linked hackers to meddle in the election have triggered congressional and federal investigations.
The intelligence community is confident that Moscow meddled by spreading misinformation, hacking and disseminating emails to damage candidates. The intelligence community also concluded that 21 states were potentially targeted in some scanning attempts of internet-connected election systems, as well as a small number of breaches of election-related infrastructure, mainly voter rolls.
Kelly’s comments were consistent with those of many US officials from this administration and the last, who have repeatedly said they expect that Russian hackers will be back in future elections.
“We’ll be back at this with a vengeance at that point,” Kelly said of midterms. “We have to protect this or we’re not a real democracy anymore, if we don’t watch out — if someone can manipulate vote counts. They didn’t last time. But if we ever get to that point where people are actually manipulating vote counts, I would say (states and localities would) be well advised to take all the help they can get, because I certainly will.”