Government

Iowa SOS to make $1 million available to county auditors for cybersecurity

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks at the Office of Chief Information Officer for the State of Iowa's Security Ope
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate speaks at the Office of Chief Information Officer for the State of Iowa’s Security Operations Center in the Hoover State Office Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jun. 5, 2018. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Secretary of State Paul Pate is asking Iowa county auditors to do a “walk-through” of their systems to make sure they are secure ahead of the 2020 elections.

Pate is telling auditors that his office will provide $1 million to assist them with cybersecurity resources ahead of the elections.

“It’s like we are asking them to walk through their house to see if any windows or doors have been left open,” Pate said Thursday before meeting with the auditors who were in Des Moines.

During the next few weeks, the United States Department of Homeland Security and the state Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) will conduct scans of all 99 counties’ websites and internal systems to look for vulnerabilities. That could be outdated equipment and software, for example, said Jeff Franklin, Pate’s chief cybersecurity officer.

Solutions may include replacing equipment and software, and separating critical infrastructure from non-critical systems, he said.

Following the scans, the SOS will make an initial investment of $1 million to help cover the expenses of the recommended upgrades. Almost every county already receives at least three cyber services from the OCIO, including training, intrusion detection and malware prevention, “to monitor for the bad guys,” Pate said.

“They’ve figured out that they can’t kick in the front door, so now they are sneaking around looking for another way” to get inside election systems, Pate said.

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Some counties have their own information technology staffs, some contract with third party vendors. Pate’s goal is to have all counties signed up for the full range of services available from his office.

“We built a very strong foundation to secure Iowa’s elections,” Pate said. “It is now time to take out cybersecurity to the next level. We need to bolster our cyber maturity.”

Franklin described the scans as a “pro-active way of seeing if you have issues and to prioritize what’s vulnerable.”

The SOS also is helping counties transition their websites to .gov domains to help ensure they all have top-level security. Pate’s office will cover the cost of the transition. Homeland Security recommends the .gov domain and the National Association of Secretaries of State adopted a similar resolution in February.

The Iowa election community has done a tremendous job of adapting to the changing world of election cybersecurity,” Pate said. “This is a team effort and we all need to be on the same page.”

The fund to assist counties with cybersecurity comes from a federal grant to Iowa through the Help America Votes Act.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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