DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asserts White House is committed to election security
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asserts White House is committed to election security

Speaking today at RSA 2018, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen offered public assurances that the Trump White House is committed to defending U.S. election infrastructure against foreign influence and hackers, despite concerns that the administration is not taking the threat seriously enough.

While previewing the DHS' soon-to-be released new cybersecurity strategy, Nielsen paused to address concerns surrounding Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

“The president has been clear, and DHS and our interagency partners have been clear. We will not allow any foreign adversary to change the outcome of our elections,” said Nielsen in a morning keynote session. “Every American must have confidence in the integrity of the system and that their votes are counted, and counted correctly.”

Last February, NSA Director and U.S. Cyber Command chief Admiral Mike Rogers created a stir when testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Trump administration had not yet specifically directed the agency to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting U.S. elections. Also, the New York Times reported last March that the U.S. State Department still had yet to spent any of the $120 million allocated in late 2016 for the purposes of defending against election interference.

Nevertheless, said the Trump administration, DHS, and other partnering agencies have emphasized election security, noting that her own agency “has adopted an aggressive posture…”

Nielsen noted that DHS is actively “working with state and local and private sector partners to offer voluntary systems including cyber hygiene scans and vulnerability assessments to better protect critical election related infrastructure” – a practice that was first instituted prior to the 2016 elections under then-DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. Nielsen said the DHS has also been promoting best practices for states and localities to ensure the redundancy of voter data, such as paper ballot back-ups.

However, when asked by the session's moderator, CNBC's Deirdre Bosa, if she was confident that U.S. election infrastructure is currently secure as the 2018 elections approach, Nielsen offered an indirect answer, responding: “I feel secure that we are and will continue to do everything we can to help state and locals secure their election infrastructure.”

To further drive her point home, Nielsen used her prepared remarks to issue a stern warning to would-be foreign meddlers.

“I have a news flash for Anerican adversaries: Complacency is being replaced by consequences,” said Nielsen. “We will not stand on the sidelines while our networks are compromised. We will not abide the theft of our data, our innovation and our resources and we not tolerate cyber meddling aimed at the heart of our democracy.”

“The United States, as you know, possesses a full spectrum of response options, both seen and unseen, and we will use them to call out maligned behavior punish it and deter future cyber hostility.”