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Pennsylvania Election Cybersecurity Commission Takes Shape

The newly formed commission has been tasked with identifying and reducing vulnerabilities in the state’s election system ahead of the next presidential election.

(TNS) — A newly formed commission convened to study Pennsylvania's election cyber­security aims to reduce vulnerability of the state's polls in time for the next presidential contest.

David Hickton, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the head of University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, and Grove City College President Paul McNulty will lead the Blue Ribbon Commission on Pennsylvania's Election Security.

“Every part of our government and every part of what we stand for is premised upon free and fair elections and the public's belief and confidence in our electoral system,” Hickton said. “Our systems are vulnerable.”

Hickton said there is a sense of urgency in the commission's work. He said he hopes the commission will wrap up later this year and present its recommendations to policymakers in time to have changes in place for 2020.

Hickton first told the Tribune-Review about the commission in February after a discussion he led with David Sanger, who covers cybersecurity for the New York Times . Sanger called Russia's meddling in the 2016 elections a sophisticated cyberattack but said it probably will never be known if it affected the outcome of the election.

The Russian cyberattacks and meddling in the 2016 election brought concerns about the vulnerability of voting systems across the country to the forefront. Polling places across the United States have used electronic voting machines for about 15 years. These machines, even ones not directly connected to the Internet, could put the integrity of the vote at risk.

The Department of Homeland Security reported in September that Pennsylvania was among 21 states targeted by hackers during the 2016 election. The Center for American Progress gave Pennsylvania a D for the security of its voting systems, noting that its paper trail and post-election audits were unsatisfactory.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered counties purchasing new voting machines or replacing problematic ones to buy machines that provide a paper backup. Hickton said Wolf has shown good leadership in trying to improve the security of the state's voting system.

Hickton said the United States and Pennsylvania should be prepared for Russia and others to mount another attack in 2020.

The commission will research cybervulnerabilities in the state's voting machines and the ways votes are tabulated and stored. It will also look at cybersecurity surrounding voter registration data and the ability of the state's system to survive and recover from an attack.

McNulty said the commission will focus attention on the security of the state's vote and the recommendations could serve as models for other states.

The commission will be independent and nonpartisan. It will meet three times, starting in June. Pitt Cyber will host a public portal on its website for people to participate in the commission's work.

There will be 21 commissioners, including Hickton and McNulty. Commissioners include the former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security, the director of the cybersecurity emergency response team at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute and the former chief of staff to U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. The heads of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh; the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania; and Verified Voting, a Pennsylvania voting transparency nonprofit, are on the commission. So are former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey; Nelson Diaz, a retired Philadelphia judge; and Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh, who was also U.S. attorney general and undersecretary-general of the United Nations; Paul O'Neill, former U.S. Treasury secretary; and U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Allentown, who is not seeking re-election, will be senior advisers.

A grant from the Heinz Endowments will help fund the commission.

©2018 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.