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Delaware National Guard activated for election security threat modelling

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Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
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The Delaware National Guard has been activated to support the cybersecurity of the upcoming election. It’s the first time the Guard has been activated for this role.

Gov. John Carney’s executive order Thursday activates the Delaware National Guard Cyberspace Operations Squadron to work with the state on election cybersecurity through the end of the year. 

The Delaware National Guard has helped the state with cybersecurity in prior elections, but not in state active duty status.

Delaware National Guard Public Affairs Director Bernie Kale says around twenty airmen with civilian and military experience will partner with the state’s Department of Technology and Information. They will model threats and make security recommendations. 

“It’s not necessarily simulated hacking, but they do look up vulnerabilities or potential weaknesses in the different computer or digitized systems,” said Kale. “They will then make the recommendations to either build up that digital barrier, or make sure that there’s extra processes in place before the election.”

Jason Clarke, acting chief information officer at the Delaware Department of Information Technology (DTI), says cybersecurity experts with the Delaware National Guard will emulate an “end user,” or citizen of the state, looking to take advantage of “one of the various opportunities” that exist in the state’s system.  

“They're able to go through all of those steps from the various channels, and just take a look at them and determine, ‘Hey, was anything left out? Is there a vulnerability here?’” Clarke said. 

Clarke says the Delaware National Guard can also apply what national guards in other states are learning to Delaware’s system. And the Guard can help DTI analyze the much greater volume of user interaction data than it had in 2016. 

Gov. John Carney’s executive order, issued Oct. 15, notes that Delaware was among the states targeted by international actors attempting to disrupt the 2016 elections, and says that due to Delaware’s “ongoing cybersecurity monitoring tools,” the attempted cyber attacks were thwarted. 

“In order to avoid the threat of cybersecurity attacks on Delaware’s 2020 elections,” the order reads, “it is prudent to ensure efforts are made to protect the elections from outside interference.” 

Clarke notes this year’s election is different from any in the past. 

“There's a significant increase in the use of our online and some of the other electronic voting options,” said Clarke. “Even with vote-by-mail, there’s a few ways that you can actually make that request ... So there’s other fronts with respect to the online environment that have grown since past elections.”

As of Tuesday evening, more than 172,000 Delaware voters had requested mail-in or absentee ballots for next month’s General Election, according to the Delaware Department of Elections.

Over 92,000 of these ballots had been returned—already more than the roughly 76,000 cast that way in last month’s State Primary Election. 

Vote-by-mail usage in Delaware this year has been split by political affiliation. As of Tuesday evening, roughly 61,000 Democrats had returned absentee or vote-by-mail ballots for the General Election, compared to roughly 16,000 Republicans and 15,000 unaffiliated voters.

Delaware’s temporary no-excuse vote-by-mail system survived two lawsuits this year—one about its constitutionality, and another about the ballot return deadline. 

State Republican Party leaders have also raised unsubstantiated claims that vote-by-mail invites fraud into Delaware’s election system. Elections experts say fraud in mail-in voting is very rare. 

 

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