State of security: Florida

Who's on charge: Florida Department of State Secretary Ken Detzner

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., left officials scratching their heads last summer during his re-election campaign when he claimed Florida’s election systems had been hacked and Russian operatives had been free “to move about” in some of the state’s counties and sparked a debate over election security between Nelson and his Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott.

“Although we have not seen new or ongoing compromises of state or local election infrastructure in Florida, Russian government actors have previously demonstrated both the intent and capability to conduct malicious cyber operations,” FBI Director Christopher Wray and Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a letter after Nelson’s assertions.

And Florida Department of State Secretary Ken Detzner, who oversees elections, piped in, calling Nelson’s claims “unsubstantiated.”

Be that as it may, Florida was one of 21 states that DHS said in 2017 whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential election. And the state was one of 20 whose voter database information was found for sale on the dark web. While Colin Bastable, CEO of Lucy Security, points out that “these are publicly available records,” he notes the statute that says social security numbers, driver’s license numbers or state identification card numbers, and sources of voter registration applications cannot be released or disclosed to the public under any circumstances, and can only be used for voter registration purposes.”

In a letter sent in the last couple of years, the Florida Association of Supervisors of Election said Florida’s systems are safe in part because they’re not connected to the internet or each other. Tabulated results are also transmitted to the association “in brief encrypted bursts.”

Any “outside attackers would need to overcome multiple layers of encryption which if successful, would result in corrupting, slowing or stopping the transmission of unofficial results to our office,” the letter said.

A month before Nelson’s assertions, Detzner’s office initially approved more than $10 million in grant money to 49 of the state’s 67 counties to use for election security, then Scott approved funding to all counties, bringing the total up to about $14.5 million. It’s unlikely to fix all of the state’s election security woes – the Center for American Progress gave the state’s efforts an “F” in its February 2018 report.

Ironically, the state whose election system was thrust into the national spotlight for the “hanging chad” during the controversial 2000 presidential election, Florida, while using paper ballots, lets counties use voting machines that don’t provide paper records. It also doesn’t require robust post-election audits, the report said, which also took issue with the state allowing voters overseas to return their ballots electronically by fax.

Voting machines aren’t required to be tested against the Election Assistance Commission’s Voluntary Voting System Guidelines before the state purchases them.

But all is not lost in the Sunshine State. The report gave Florida a thumbs up for mandating that election officials perform logic and accuracy testing on voting machines to be used in elections. Various counties have put their money to good use, as well, bolstering firewalls, purchasing hardware and software to bolster security and adopting multifactor authentication, among other measures.

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