How One Small Election Office in Florida is Using the State's Security Money

The state has fielded and approved grant applications for $10.3 million of the $19 million the state received in federal funding to secure Florida's election.

by Tim Croft, The Star / August 3, 2018

(TNS) — One might think that a small elections office in Gulf County, Fla., would not be much of a target for cybersecurity intruders.

One would be wrong.

Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon said his system, as with just about every elections system in Florida, has almost daily contact between firewall and mischief makers.

They are not specifically targeting the elections office, per se, rather looking for an opening.

"None of them are successful, but every day we have IP addresses bounce off the firewall, people looking for a weakness, anywhere that is vulnerable," Hanlon said.

Hanlon added what might be a tad of an understatement: Cybersecurity is "on the forefront of every supervisor's mind."

Last week, Hanlon's office was one of 49 to be selected by the Florida Department of State to receive a grant to bolster physical and cybersecurity.

"We are going to use the money to harden the systems we already have in place," Hanlon said. "This money will allow us to harden our systems even more than they are. We had to submit a plan and while they didn't fund all of our plan, they funded most of it. We want to make our systems even harder."

The money comes from $19 million in federal funding set aside to secure Florida's election.

The state has fielded and approved grant applications for $10.3 million of those funds, according to the office of Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

"As Florida prepares for the upcoming election, nothing is more important than our work to ensure secure elections," said Gov. Rick Scott. "This funding will help local supervisors of elections enhance their security so they can administer another smooth round of voting."

Detzner's office said additional grant applications will continue to be reviewed and approved for funding.

Hanlon's office will receive $60,541, and there was a significant caveat to receiving the funds: they had to be spent this calendar year.

For Gulf County, the dollars will provide for real-time tracking of voter information, additional firewall protection and a server to monitor all electronic traffic within the office.

In addition, a multi-factor identification system will provide an additional work-station specific layer of protection.

In short, a hacker "getting into the building would have another level of security to access a work station," Hanlon said.

The focus is less on election results, Hanlon said, and more protecting the privacy of voter information.

Florida's elections are not entirely performed and counted with technology.

Sometimes the good old fashioned methods provide their own version of back-up.

"Florida is a paper ballot state, so we not worried as much about changing the voting outcome," Hanlon said. "It really is more about protecting voter information."

©2018 The Star, Port St. Joe, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.