Clickability tracking pixel

Florida Officials Pledge to Combat 2020 Election Hackers

“Foreign adversaries” and “malign foreign actors” are trying to influence and attack Florida’s election systems, FBI officials say, and they need help from citizens to try to combat them in 2020.

by Gray Rohrer / November 4, 2019
Shutterstock/Andrea Danti

(TNS) — “Foreign adversaries” and “malign foreign actors” are trying to influence and attack Florida’s election systems, FBI officials say, and they need your help to combat them.

“You are the first line of defense against foreign influence operations and cybercriminals worldwide,” Rachel Rojas, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville Field Office, said during a news conference Friday. “All American voices are important … so we all must remain vigilant all year round.”

Rojas gathered with state and local elections officials from around Florida to highlight new initiatives and funding designed to thwart hackers and foreign attempts to influence elections in the Sunshine State.

The report from special investigator Robert Mueller detailed many of the attempts by those working for the Russian government to hack election systems around the country in 2016, including several in Florida.

The report noted that at least one Florida county had its election rolls hacked, and Gov. Ron DeSantis later said there was a second county that was hacked. Officials, though, stated there was no tampering with registration or ballots and no one had penetrated the vote-counting systems.

None of the officials who spoke Friday, however, would specifically name which foreign government or foreign actors posed a threat to Florida’s elections. And they maintained the long-held secret of which Florida counties were infiltrated.

Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee emphasized her department’s efforts to guard against election hacking, such as doling out $15.5 million in election security grants and completing a review of election systems around the state and their weaknesses.

But Lee said she couldn’t reveal the names of the counties hacked in 2016 or specify what her review showed about Florida’s vulnerabilities to the public, lest the information also be released to unnamed “enemies.”

Lawrence Keefe, a federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Florida, said the FBI and other U.S. agencies are launching public awareness campaigns to alert voters to dangers lurking online, such as misinformation or disinformation campaigns, spearfishing attempts and ransomware attacks.

National security experts are joining with cybersecurity experts and working with state law enforcement and local election officials to combat election attacks, he said, which is an “unprecedented collaboration.”

The help from the federal government is needed, said Levy County Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones, especially in smaller rural counties that don’t have the resources to get the training, software and other tools to ward off hackers.

“We are all so much better prepared than in 2016. However, we are now in a race with no finish line and we will need to continue to make improvements as technology improves,” said Jones, also president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

Lee told reporters earlier this week her office was seeing “daily” attempts to attack election systems, and that message was echoed by Rojas, who indicated permanent vigilance would be needed to guard against election hackers.

“We know our adversaries are relentless,'' Rojas said. "Their attempts to interfere in our elections are not a new problem and we expect their efforts to continue in 2020.”

©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.

Platforms & Programs