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Secretary of State Launches Cybersecurity Partnership

paul pate
Kate Payne/IPR

The state’s top elections official says the state's voting systems are buffeted by cyber attacks. Now Iowa's secretary of stateis launching a new partnership to try and insulate the department.

According to Secretary of State Paul Pate, Iowa’s elections website and voter databases are hit by hundreds of thousands of threats on a daily basis. He said the majority of attacks are U.S.-based bots trying to steal personal information for financial gain.

But so far Iowa’s voting systems have not been compromised, Pate said.

“I’ve assured Iowans and I’ll assure them again today that our system is intact, that it has not been hacked. There are no foreign countries manipulating your votes or accessing your voting information,” he said.

Pate described the process of blocking the attacks as a constant battle. Now the secretary is forming a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, county officials and tech experts to review the state’s systems, recommend updates and draft policy suggestions.

“When you talk about 99 counties, some are large, some are small. And they have different levels of resources. So what my goal is…is to try to develop templates, if you will, or resources, that will accommodate them,” Pate said.

Pate said ongoing issues include communication between state and local officials and making sure Iowa's scores of precinct volunteers are up to date on new technologies and procedures.

The partnership will build on collaborations between Iowa and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which helps with information sharing, systems assessments and scans, and training. Matt Masterson is a security advisor for the DHS.

"In the end, we're all working together towards the same goal. And that goal is to ensure that voters have confidence in the process, that their votes will be counted as cast, and that the winners are in fact the winners," Masterson said.

Iowa is one of 21 states that were targeted by Russian cyberhackers during the 2016 election. Pate described the incident as a "drive-by" in which attackers looked for weak spots. He said he hopes the new working group will ensure the state's systems are protected against future threats propelled by evolving technology. 

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter