DHS is worried about ransomware and other cybersecurity attacks on voter registration databases ahead of the election, says top official

christopher krebs dhs cybersecurity

  • Voter-registration databases and other "areas where information is centralized" are key concerns of election security, says Christopher Krebs, director of Department of Homeland security cybersecurity.
  • In an on-stage interview at the RSA cybersecurity conference, Krebs calls ransomware - where attackers lock up data with encryption until victims pay - the scourge of the internet.
  • A key tech challenge for 2020 election is 8,800 election jurisdictions across the country, the DHS official says.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Ransomware or other attacks on voter registration databases are a key election security concern, the head of cybersecurity for the Department of Homeland Security told the RSA Security conference Tuesday in San Francisco.

The DHS is looking at "the areas where information is centralized," Christopher Krebs, director of the DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said onstage in a keynote interview. His comments come just months ahead of the 2020 presidential election in November.Advertisement

Ransomware attacks encrypt information so that it cannot be accessed or used until the victim pays the attacker to decrypt the data, making it accessible again. Krebs noted that the decryption "keys" often don't work, and victims are better off not paying. He said his department is working with state and local law enforcement and said, "We can figure this out together."

The risk to voter registration databases is compounded by the technical challenge for the government of protecting 8,800 election jurisdictions across the country, Krebs said.

Krebs said his department is also looking to warn the public about fake news on social media and elsewhere by determining and explaining "this is what they're going to try to say."

Krebs, a former Microsoft policy executive nominated for a DHS cybersecurity role in 2018 by President Trump, told the crowd election security "is not about the outcome of any particular race. It's about a broader destabilizing of trust."

The RSA Conference is an annual cybersecurity conference begun in 1991. Some 40,000 people are attending it this week in San Francisco - even after major sponsors including IBM, AT&T, and Verizon cancelled their appearances due to coronavirus concerns.