(The Center Square) – Florida’s elections systems have been “stress tested” and are secure, Gov. Ron DeSantis assured after revelations that Iranian spoofers and Russian hackers have accessed voter registration rolls across the county, including in Florida.
DeSantis said elections systems in Florida’s 67 counties have been hardened since 2016, when at least two – St. Lucie and Washington counties – were breached by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.
Florida has invested at least $60 million in state and federal money to bolster cyber security since 2016, DeSantis said, and it remedied potential issues with frequent “stress tests” since before the 2018 mid-term election.
“2018 was relatively uneventful,” DeSantis said Thursday. “Haven’t seen as much this year, either. But we understand there’s a lot of different things that are out there. We are concerned about China, Russia, Iran.”
Threatening emails portrayed to be from the Proud Boys were received Tuesday by voters in four states Tuesday, including in at least five Florida counties. Collier County reported local voters received a spoofed video claiming it hacked a federal voting assistance program.
Proud Boys, an all-male, right-wing group, denied involvement, and the National Security Agency on Wednesday identified Iran as the culprit.
Perpetrators didn’t need to hack into computer systems to access basic details about individual voters, much of which is public.
The Iranian spoofing was an attempt “to get things in the zeitgeist with voters,” DeSantis said, “which is a little bit different from attacking, like, the supervisors’ offices.”
The FBI revealed in 2018 that voter registration rolls in several Florida counties were hacked before the 2016 election. More details emerged in April 2019, when the Mueller report said “at least one Florida county government” – Washington County – was compromised in 2016. A subsequent FBI report identified St. Lucie County as another Florida county where voter registration rolls were probed by the GRU.
There is no evidence any information elsewhere in Florida was changed, according to the FBI and state and local elections officials.
In response, Congress appropriated $380 million to states in 2018 for security upgrades. Florida’s share was $19.2 million. This year, Florida received $24 million from a $425 million federal elections security bill.
Florida also is one 30 states that has joined the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that helps states maintain more accurate voter rolls and register more voters.
ERIC uses voter registration, state motor vehicle and Social Security death data to identify voters who have moved or who are deceased. The center also identifies eligible but unregistered individuals. Members then mail voter registration information to these individuals before each federal general election.
Florida has invested $18 million in state money since 2018 in elections security, including $2.8 million approved by the Florida Legislature in 2019 and $13.5 million in 2020.
Lawmakers created the Florida Cybersecurity Task Force in 2019 and unanimously adopted at least two cybersecurity bills in 2020:
• House Bill 821, the Information Technology Security Act, requires the Florida Department of Management Services (FDMS) to develop procedures to protect state information technology resources and data, including elections data, from cyberattack.
• Senate Bill 538 requires FDMS to annually publish a list of cybersecurity incidents. Cyberattacks are classified as “reportable incidents” to be documented with FDMS.
Two central Florida U.S. representatives want FBI Director Christopher Wray to brief them after seven local election officials said they’ve not been provided any information regarding any emerging threats.
Orlando Democrat Stephanie Murphy and Daytona Republican Michael Waltz told Wray in a joint letter that threatening emails were received by voters in Flagler, Brevard and Alachua counties this week.
Murphy spearheaded the push in late-2019 to approve a $600 million elections security bill. Congress approved a $425 million compromise measure in December. The Brennan Center for Justice estimated the nation’s 3,141 counties need $2 billion to protect systems from cyberattacks.