CHEYENNE – Election officials and candidates from across the state came to Cheyenne on Friday to get an intensive course in cybersecurity from the FBI.
The event was a chance for the FBI to partner with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office to help educate county clerks and candidates for elected office. Experts from both government agencies spent Friday covering types of threats the group could face, how to keep their organizations secure and what steps they should take if they become the target of a suspected hack.
“I call it Cyber 101. We want to educate them regarding potential cyber threats, but also the tools available to them to potentially mitigate the threats,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Calvin Shivers. “We wanted to take a proactive posture and educate our elected officials, our candidates, our clerks of court regarding potential threats.
“And, again, as those threats evolve, we want to keep those channels of communication open, where we can provide information that we think can be helpful. But communication also if there’s new threats identified or new methods.”
Shivers reiterated several times that the FBI didn’t have reason to suspect Wyoming’s election infrastructure was faced with an imminent threat. Instead, the event was a chance to get ahead of any future problem, and make sure local, state and federal officials are on the same page when it comes to security.
Mike Mercer, the Denver chief security officer for the FBI who led part of the training, said any attack on elections would come at the users, whether it was candidates or election officials. So it makes sense to train them about the potential threats, what to be on the lookout for and how any successful attack could be mitigated.
“It’s about education and awareness. There’s a lot of issues out there with cybersecurity, and the user doesn’t get enough training themselves,” Mercer said. “(Part of it is) not opening up emails from unknown sources. But it’s also teaching the processes those attackers are going to use to get information about them.”
Mercer said the example he likes to use to educate people is if someone walking down the street asks you for your username, password and credit card information, you’re not going to give it to them.
“You shouldn’t be doing that with an email from someone you have no idea who it’s from,” Mercer said.
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan said the state’s election systems are very secure, with voting machines not connected to the internet and valuable assets protected in a secure location. The training was really to reinforce the need for vigilance on the part of county clerks and candidates, and to give them the knowledge and tools to deal with any potential attack.
“In 2016, the issue came to the forefront, so we’re going to be proactive in this effort,” Buchanan said. “One of the advantages of living in a rural state in Wyoming is these folks are vigilant already. They know the community, and if they see something strange or different, they’re very aware of it and they report it to us immediately.”
Buchanan said his office would continue trainings with county clerks as well as with the FBI through this election season and beyond.
Ramsey Scott is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @RamseyWyoming.