Directive issued by LaRose aims to set new standard for election security

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Frank LaRose

FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2018 file photo, Frank Larose speaks at the Ohio Republican Party event in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio detected and thwarted an election-related cyber attack earlier this month, the state’s elections chief said. LaRose said the “relatively unsophisticated” hacking attempt on Nov. 5, 2019, originated in Panama but was traced to a Russian-owned company. LaRose told The Columbus Dispatch Tuesday, Nov. 26 that the would-be attackers were looking around for vulnerabilities in his office’s website. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose on Tuesday issued the 2020 Election Security & Accessibility Directive to the state’s 88 county boards of election.

The directive details how counties must use federal dollars to strengthen their election security and accessibility for disabled voters in preparation for the upcoming election.

Ohio’s share of federal HAVA funds designated for the 2020 election is $13,657,222. This builds on last week’s directive in which the Secretary allocated $11.2 million in federal funding directly to the county boards for pandemic preparedness. The combination of these two actions results in $24.8 million being pushed out directly in order for Ohio’s bipartisan boards of election to be ready for November.

“Our efforts last year already made Ohio a national leader in election security, but we need to keep our foot on the gas,” said LaRose. “This order empowers our county boards of elections with technological enhancements that will set a new standard for election security.”

Included in the 2020 Election Security & Accessibility Directive are the following: 

Adding AI to Strengthen Cybersecurity

New software called Endpoint Detection and Response is going to be installed in all 88 county boards of elections at no cost to them. The Artificial Intelligence software looks at known bad behavior and characteristics of malicious actors versus looking only for bad files like traditional anti-virus software. It allows first responders to contain an infected machine remotely instead of having to be onsite. Lastly, it gives responders the ability to analyze the system remotely and assess it for other potential nefarious activity. This new software can either complement or substitute current software used by a county board of elections.

Cybersecurity Experts on Call

Not all county boards of elections have the resources to employ individuals with the expertise necessary to implement some of the advancements required of a security county board. With that in mind, Secretary LaRose will be providing counties with an assigned Cybersecurity expert that will assist boards and local IT support with tools, software or hardware integration, software and patch management support, network analysis review, incident response planning and exercising; tier one incident management forensic collection support, and general engineering technical assistance. Those counties who do have full time cybersecurity personnel will also find this additional help beneficial as they seek to augment ongoing efforts at the local level to provide even more robust protection. 

Network Intrusion Detection

Last year, the Secretary required county boards of elections to install Albert Intrusion Detection Monitoring hardware, designed to detect any suspicious cyber-activity. The Secretary of State’s office is now extending funding for monitoring of these devices through 2022.  

New Efforts to Block Malicious Websites

The Secretary of State’s Office is providing county boards of elections with a malicious domain blocking service. This service will block access to malicious websites, help stop malware from connecting to known command-and-control infrastructure, and compliment the intrusion detection services currently provided. Each board of elections must begin using this malicious domain blocking service by August 28, 2020.

Continued Information Sharing with Federal, State, and Local Partners

One reason Ohio has become a national leader in election security is our comprehensive partnership with the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC). Active and continued participation provides county boards of elections with timely and actionable information regarding threats to the county’s election information systems. County boards are required to continue their active membership to EI-ISAC.

Keeping Background Checks Updated

All permanent board of elections employees, vendors, or contractors who perform sensitive services for the board of elections are required to have an Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (“BCI”) statewide criminal background check conducted, at a minimum, every ten years.

Emergency Preparedness

Contingency plans are required as part of the county Election Administration Plans to ensure boards are prepared for any incident that could occur on Election Day or during the early voting period. By August 28, 2020, each board of elections must collaborate with its County Emergency Management Agency and Sheriff’s Office to review emergency contingency plans. These contingency plans should appropriately address natural and human-caused disasters that could occur at the board of elections, early voting center, or any polling location in the county.

Accessible Drop Boxes

Ballot drop boxes must be accessible to people with disabilities to approach, maneuver, and reach any operable parts to drop off any election-related documents independently.

Making County Boards of Elections Websites Accessible to People with Disabilities

Each county boards of elections must have their sample ballots, voter look-up, and contact forms evaluated by a web accessibility evaluation tool to ensure they conform to tools used by people with disabilities to view a website.

You can read the entire directive by clicking here.

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