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Oregon seeks to protect state election system from Russia

February 28, 2018

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2016, file photo, Dennis Richardson, the Oregon Republican Secretary of state candidate, waves to the crowd during an election night event at the Salem Convention Center in Salem, Ore. The Republican-led office in charge of Oregon's elections is asking the Legislature to fund an internet security position to protect against foreign interference after the Russian government targeted the state in the 2016 elections. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez, File)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The state office in charge of Oregon’s elections was granted funding from the Legislature for an internet security position to protect against Russian government interference and hacking by others, officials said Tuesday.

While Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, said Tuesday in Washington that the U.S. response to Russian meddling and disinformation campaigns has not been strong enough, Oregon has been taking steps to bolster its cyber-defenses.

A letter signed by Oregon Deputy Secretary of State Leslie Cummings asked for $166,348 to cover the cost of the new IT security position, saying “Oregon was one of 21 states targeted by Russian government cyber activities.”

Cummings said in an interview with The Associated Press the new employee, once hired, will put in new equipment that was purchased with funds budgeted by the legislature in 2017.

The person will be responsible for beefing up security on all of Secretary of State Dennis Richardson’s computer systems, including voter registration, the auditing department and the state archives — departments which he is responsible for.

Richardson, who’s the state’s top Republican said Tuesday that he recently attended a briefing with National Intelligence, the Department Homeland Security, and FBI officials.

“As you can imagine, cybersecurity dominated our discussions,” Richardson said in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security has assured us that Oregon’s voter registration database was not breached.”

Richardson and Cummings both said election results cannot be hacked because ballots are on paper and are either mailed in or dropped in secure ballot boxes, then counted by hand by county clerks and their personnel.

“You can’t hack paper, so there is no vulnerability there,” Cummings said.

In her letter, which was first reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive on Tuesday and dated January 8, Cummings emphasized the Russian threat as she sought the funding for the staff position.

“An additional IT security position is needed to expedite implementation of Homeland Security recommendations and protect Oregon elections from potential foreign interference,” Cummings wrote to the Interim Joint Committee on Ways and Means.

She said the Legislature granted the funds during its current short session.

The new technology should be running before the election next November, Cummings told AP.

“It was better prevention tools that were granted to us, and we’re just looking for the person to help put it in,” she said.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

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