DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Days before early voting begins (Monday, October 22), Dallas County Commissioners increased protection for its elections system against hackers.
Commissioners voted in a specially-called meeting Friday to work with a contractor of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to secure its election website.
The county’s Elections Administrator, Toni Pippins Poole said the county is adding a third layer of monitoring to prevent hackers from going “into our website and manipulate any data that’s there to confuse the voters about the registration status, or places to go to vote and the dates and hours of the election.”
The county’s IT Department and AT&T already keep an eye out on the system.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says the contractor for DHS can go further. “For instance, if there’s a phishing attack in Nebraska and they can capture that, they will run that against everybody in the U.S.’ computers to see if it’s the same phishing attack happening in Maine, or in Texas, or in Dallas County.”
Jenkins and other Commissioners also sought to reassure the public that their votes are safe because hackers can’t get to them. “It won’t affect your vote in our machine because we are not hooked to the internet.”
As for the county’s newly approved program to protect its website and other voter data, the state is picking up the cost.
It’s all part of the Texas Secretary of State’s effort to boost election security.
Earlier this year, the state received a $23 million federal grant to pay for the improvements.
Dan Wallach is one of nine computer scientists and cybersecurity experts at Texas universities who urged the Secretary of State to make security improvements in a letter last May.
Wallach says he’s encouraged after the state brought DHS experts to talk to county elections officials.
“What the state is doing is helping local elections officials understand the cyber-security threats in general, how can they improve their security practices.”
He says the state has plenty of planning to do. “Building better voting machines, building better voter registration databases, all of this requires thinking not only about three months from now, but thinking about three to ten years from now.”
By December 1, the Secretary of State must submit a report on any vulnerabilities it finds in the elections system and how to fix them.
To date, a spokesman with the Texas Secretary of State’s office says the state has no evidence that its voter registration database, any county voter registration database, or any voting systems in the state have been compromised.
State Representative Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, Chair of the House Select Committee on Cyber Security, said he believes there’s bipartisan support among legislators to spend more money to bolster election security during the next legislative session beginning in January.