Ohio Considers Cyber Militia For Elections

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The Ohio legislature is considering a measure that would bolster election security ahead of the 2019-2020 cycle. If passed, the measure would create a civilian reserve to help protect the state’s election systems from cyber attack. The bill would also create a new chief information security role for state election and government systems. The CISO would work with the Secretary of State who currently oversees Ohio’s cybersecurity efforts.

Notably, the bill also includes a provision that requires local boards of elections to conduct post-vote audits by hand and/or by reviewing the paper trails of electronic voting machines. Post-election audits are supported broadly by election security advocates who say that the extra step can help mitigate nefarious changes to voter rolls and vote totals.

Ohio policymakers have refocused on cybersecurity this session following a high profile attack on city servers in Akron in January. Cyber adversaries took down the city’s 311 ticketing system for a day using ransomware that locked out public employees and reportedly demanded a five-figure cash payment to have it restored.

If the new election security bill is signed into law, the civilian-led Ohio Cyber Reserve would be called up for active duty during election time. The bill sets aside funding to pay the cyber defenders in 2019 and 2020, although it’s not entirely clear what their full remit would be. The Reserve would function as an official arm of Ohio’s state militia. The Ohio National Guard already has a cyber team in place that can be called upon to help with cybersecurity incidents. This bill would presumably expand that team and its remit to include election security.

The bill has the backing of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose who testified before policymakers in Columbus on Tuesday. He said that states are on the front line when it comes to election meddling and that the state needs to invest resources to protect free and fair elections. Ohio Adjutant General John Harris, who leads the Ohio National Guard also supports the bill.

Full text of the bill is available here.