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‘Our form of government is under attack,’ says RI secretary of state

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Government entities have a long way to go in preparing for cyber attacks, according to Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and a possible Election Day attack would “definitely have an impact” on tabulating the results.

“We’re in a different world now, where our democracy — our form of government — is under attack,” Gorbea said in an interview with Target 12.

Gorbea said while she and the Board of Elections have created many election cybersecurity “best practices” over the past several years, none of those practices are enshrined in state law.

She is still urging state lawmakers to pass an election cybersecurity bill that was filed on her behalf earlier this year. The bill was first introduced in February and passed the House unanimously, but the legislation died in the Senate when the session ended in June.

As Target 12 reported Monday, Rhode Island state government faces 60 million cyber “events” per day, ranging from reconnaissance to attacks, according to the R.I. Department of Administration.

The threats come from countries such as Iran, Russia, North Korea and Ukraine.

Gorbea said the nearly $11 million for cybersecurity coming to Rhode Island via the infrastructure bill signed into law by President Biden on Monday needs to go toward training government workers against ransomware attacks, and updating state hardware and software.

Gorbea told Target 12 she was the first state election official to obtain a federal security clearance in 2017, keeping her office up to date with the latest cybersecurity intelligence.

“I believe that our state has a long way to go in preparing all of its governmental entities against cyber attacks,” Gorbea said.

“Some sort of attack on Election Day will definitely have an impact on an election that’s happening, but we train for this,” she added.

Gorbea said an attack would likely delay election results.

But she also points out the state has prepared, citing cyber summits and trainings with state and local election officials.

Passing the election cybersecurity bill, Gorbea said, is vital.

Greg Paré, a Senate spokesperson, said the Senate could take up the bill again if it meets later this fall. The Board of Elections decided not to take a position on the bill, meaning it didn’t support the bill or oppose it.

The bill would have established a cybersecurity review board, required cybersecurity training for election officials, and created a cybersecurity incident response group.

“We want to make sure that when an attack happens, no matter who’s sitting at the table, people know exactly what to do, and what is the legal authority for those conversations,” she said.

Tolly Taylor (ttaylor@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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