At a recent press conference, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that Russian hackers infiltrated files in two Florida counties during the 2016 election season.
The counties remain unnamed, and none of the 67 counties in Florida have volunteered information confirming that the hacks. According to DeSantis, the FBI required him to sign a non-disclosure agreement, a move that Politico called “remarkable” and of “[potentially] questionable legal standing in a state with broad public record laws.”
“I think they [the counties] should be named,” says DeSantis, showing his solidarity with much of the American public.
The FBI has attempted to assure voters that although hackers may have gained access to voter registration files, they did not tamper with the votes themselves. , “…investigators did not detect any adversary activity that impacted vote counts or disrupted electoral processes during the 2016 or 2018 elections,” noted a bureau spokesperson. Naturally, skepticism abounds, but anything more remains unconfirmed.
Because Florida serves as a swing state during presidential elections, interfering with Florida’s vote count could completely flip an election outcome, making it a prime attack target.
While answers to questions around ‘who knew what, and when’ remain murky, the real question that besets us now is ‘how can we introduce advanced cyber security initiatives to thwart any issues in the 2020 election cycle?’
In a peculiar move, within this year’s legislative session, the state of Florida allocated $2.8 million for cyber security grants, but did not approve funding for a cyber security team on behalf of Florida’s Department of State. Get more on this story from Politico.com.
The Pensacola cyber attack
Updated, the Pensacola cyber attack: In other Florida cyber security news, earlier this year, the City of Pensacola experienced a cyber attack. The City immediately proceeded with remediation efforts. As a result, the City managed to bring computers back online within a few days. External consultants and legal authorities evaluated the situation.
The City of Pensacola’s payment systems appear to have suffered damage. Online payment systems for Pensacola Energy and city sanitation services temporarily ceased to function. Elements of the city infrastructure such as the 911 service were not affected by the cyber attack. The attack did not present any immediate dangers to public safety.
The City of Pensacola reports that personal information may or may not have seen compromise. Out of an abundance of caution, the City of Pensacola released notifications to local citizens, customers, vendors and employees concerning potential data leakage.
The day before the Pensacola cyber attack, a deadly shooting occurred at NAS Pensacola. Further information has not yet been released regarding any potential connection between the physical violence and the cyber incident.
Director of the University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity, Eman El-Sheikh, contacted the City of Pensacola to offer assistance. Within the span of a single calendar year, at least seven local US government groups experienced cyber attacks. Many have contended with ransomware. Cities have paid as much as $600,000 to cyber criminals in exchange for file recovery.
Cyber security awareness initiatives and strong IT security tools can help prevent cyber intrusions. For further insights into how municipalities can beef up cyber defenses, see this story.