Illinois State Board of Elections starts program to combat cyber - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Illinois State Board of Elections starts program to combat cyberattacks

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WSIL -- Just weeks after the Department of Justice handed down an indictment against Russian intelligence operatives for cyberattacks during the 2016 elections the Illinois State Board of Elections is advancing its own cybersecurity program.

The new Cyber Navigator Program will look to ensure all 108 election authorities across the state employ cybersecurity best practices.

"Until there was an actual hack in 2016, I don’t think anybody really realized that it was going to be possible to get in or that there could be issues," said Jackson County Clerk Larry Reinhardt.

He says now, more than ever, cyber security is a priority. In 2016 Illinois was among several states hacked by Russians, compromising the personal information of  approximately half a million voters.

Matt Dietrich, spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, says since then, the state has fixed vulnerabilities and is working to ensure voters’ data is as secure as possible. 

"We feel like we are doing our best to stay one step ahead of any bad actor who wants to try to intrude on our system," Dietrich said.

Under the Cyber Navigator program the state will hire nine cybersecurity specialists to work with local election authorities to install best practices and address other security needs on an individual basis. It will be financed by a $13.2 million federal grant. 

"The Cyber Navigator program is our way of making sure that none of the 108 local election jurisdictions in Illinois become a weak link that could be vulnerable to a cyberattack," Dietrich said.

The attempted hacks target voter data, not the actual results of elections. Both Dietrich and Reinhardt say the actual voting machines are not connected to any internet system and are virtually impossible to hack.

"The voting device that is used in the precinct is hand carried to our office, it’s hooked directly to our central count disconnected computer and everything is tabulated on that computer," Reinhardt said.

The state expects to have the cybersecurity specialists hired within the next month.

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