Washington’s electoral system boosting firewalls, bringing in cyber security to prevent hacks

SEATTLE -- In the wake of federal indictments accusing 12 Russian agents of meddling in the 2016 election, efforts are underway to strengthen the electoral system in Washington state.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also said Friday the  Russian spies stole U.S. voter information of 500,000 Americans -- all in Illinois.

Here in Washington, the process of strengthening the electoral system is underway.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman says cyber experts with the National Guard will be coming in to help. They will test for any vulnerabilities. The state will also make sure firewalls are secure and unbreakable.

Wyman says Congress recently allotted $9 million to beef up voter security in Washington state.

“Trust in the electoral system is crucial for trust in our communities,” cyber security expert Barbara Endicott-Popovsky said.

That's why it raises concerns anytime there is an attempt to hack the electoral system.

Although it’s a concern, it’s not a surprise to cyber security experts like Endicott-Popovsky.

“The situation that we were talking about today is no different from other breaches I am aware of,” she said.

Endicott-Popovsky teaches cyber security at the University of Washington. She says the Russians used well-known hacks to steal emails and other information from the Democratic Party.

“It is troubling to me to see elected officials and senior officials from both sides of the aisle so cavalier with their computer system -- they are not adequately protected,” Endicott-Popovsky said.

But as far as Washington state’s system is concerned, Wyman says it’s well protected. She says Russians tried to breach it in the past but failed.

“I liken it to a burglar who tried to get into your house and checking your doors and windows and finding it all locked and that's what happened to the hackers who tried to get into our systems; they couldn't get past our firewall," Wyman said.

But even if voters managed to get in, Washington's old school ways are perhaps the best defense.

“We are a paper-based balloting system so all of our ballots are paper ballots with a small exception of our military overseas who can email a ballot back,” Wyman said.

Paper ballots mean you can always physically do a recount.

In June, Q13 News visited King County Elections, where votes are tabulated.

The counting room uses its own internal network with zero connection to the outside world.

“Using old-school techniques like that make us safe, I agree with Kim,” Endicott-Popovsky said.

She said no system is perfect but she says Washington state is doing a good job so far of keeping voter information safe.

"I couldn't be more comfortable with how our governor and the secretary of state are handling cyber security issues around elections, they are very mindful of it," Endicott-Popovsky said.