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Blumenthal: National Guard's role in helping Connecticut combat election hacks should be model for country

The Connecticut National Guard’s role in helping to shore up Connecticut’s cybersecurity defenses against election hacks is a model for other states around the country leading up to the 2020 presidential election in November, said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

“They’re making use of their private civilian expertise to safeguard our election and do a tremendous public service and that’s a model for the whole country,” he said Friday at a news conference he convened outside the State Capitol in Hartford, joined by Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates and Maj. Gen. Francis Evon, the adjutant general of the Connecticut National Guard.

Blumenthal said he’d just come from a “very informative and significant” briefing from the National Guard and the Secretary of the State’s Office on what Connecticut is doing to protect its voting processes.

"Connecticut faces an unprecedented challenge that is that nation states are attacking American states in disinformation campaigns. However, we've built unprecedented partnerships at the state, local and federal levels to make sure that our elections are safe and secure and all of our people have their voices lifted up," Bates said.

The National Guard has been advising local officials, who manage elections in the state, how to better safeguard their systems, including putting together a 41-page document that serves as a checklist to ensure they are practicing basic cyber safeguards. They also are assessing any equipment that towns and cities might need to prevent election interference. 

States across the country are increasingly calling on the guard’s cybersecurity specialists to provide help to election officials, an especially important task in rural areas or small jurisdictions that may be short-staffed, NBC News reported recently.

While the National Guard recently has been involved with the state's response to COVID-19 and the damage following Tropical Storm Isaias, "cyber is another tool the governor has in his toolkit when there's a bad day in Connecticut," Evon said.

Connecticut was among 21 states that had their online voter registration databases targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election. The hackers scanned but were not successful in breaching Connecticut’s database.

“We know from past interference that the failure to do simple, elemental tasks — two-factor authentication, turn on encryption, a strong password, do the basic safeguards that are necessary. These kinds of steps can prevent the disastrous results that we saw in 2016,” Blumenthal said.

While most voting equipment is not connected to the internet, voter registry and election management systems are, and officials have warned that hackers also could attack sites that provide information to voters about Election Day, such as the location of their polling places. Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has said the state's election management system “is the one to watch” because that’s where results are reported.

Connecticut has spent millions in federal funds since the 2016 election to ensure that municipalities across the state are running secure software and to train local officials how to identify breaches and where to report them, and recently contracted with a company called Covendis to target disinformation leading up to the general election.

j.bergman@theday.com

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