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News | Jan. 29, 2020

U.S. Cyber Command, NSA Poised to Support U.S. Election Security

With the Iowa Caucuses just days away, the U.S. Government is committed to protecting and defending the integrity of the Nation’s democratic processes and elections. 

That was the message from U.S. Cyber Command’s Brig. Gen. William Hartman and NSA’s David Imbordino, the co-leads of Command and Agency’s joint Election Security Group, during a panel Tuesday. 

 “We have a responsibility to do our part to ensure we understand how to secure our own democratic processes based on best info [intelligence] we can possibly produce,” said Hartman, who leads USCYBERCOM’s Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF) which plans and conducts cyber operations aimed at disrupting adversaries. 

Both officials touted the partnering roles USCYBERCOM and NSA play to support the Government’s efforts to secure and defend U.S. elections during a panel at DreamPort – USCYBERCOM’s unclassified innovation and collaboration center for public-private partners to work on cyber-related projects. The event was hosted by the University of Southern California’s (USC) Election Cybersecurity Initiative and moderated by Dept. of Defense Press Secretary Alyssa Farah. 

Both leaders reminded the audience that the first line of defense for democracy’s security begins with each constituent.    

“Events like today’s occur because the private sector recognized this is an issue,” said Imbordino who highlighted the intrinsic value of public-private partnerships in this effort. “Public recognition is a huge first step,” he said. 

Imbordino talked about how NSA generates vital insights and shares them with partner agencies like DHS and FBI, who are lead agencies in the defense of U.S. elections. 

Imbordino also explained that while the Agency isn’t often the face of engagement with the private sector, it does enable interagency partners that are. Each agency takes NSA’s shared information to at-risk social media and other private companies, which enables all entities to combat malicious activities the adversary may be undertaking. 

Hartman noted USCYBERCOM’s offensive posture was just as important as its ability to deliver effect in response to the adversary’s destructive activities. This includes ‘hunt forward’ operations, conducted by CNMF’s highly skilled military members. Hunt forward missions are, oftentimes, directly informed by the information NSA collects as part of its foreign signals intelligence mission. 

“We are able to work with partner nations and receive invites to execute operations in their countries,” explained Hartman, who said that small units are deployed to broker access to networks the adversary has infiltrated. Vital insights gained from these missions greatly inform the USG’s efforts to safeguard the Nation’s infrastructure.  
At the end of the panel, both Hartman and Imbordino echoed in one voice that success in defending the 2020 elections depends in large part on the same interagency partnerships that successfully secured the 2018 elections. 

“We are laser focused on any foreign adversaries trying to interfere with our election process,” Hartman said. 

This is the first of many forums USC’s Election Cybersecurity Initiative plans to host around the country. The non-partisan independent project, aims to inform and protect campaigns and elections and, they plan to visit all 50 states before November 2020. 

“Our goal is to take a complicated issue like election cybersecurity and translate it to better inform the people, candidates, and campaigns about how to mitigate and defend against risks,” said Justin Griffin, the managing director of USC’s Election Cybersecurity Initiative. 

“Our candidate is democracy.”