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Secretary Husted, Ohio's Community Colleges Announce Partnership to Support Elections Cybersecurity Efforts

COLUMBUS – To ensure county boards of elections have the support needed to meet recently released elections security standards, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted today announced a new collaboration between his office and the state’s community colleges. This public partnership gives local elections officials access to knowledgeable information technology (IT) professionals who will be able to help guide and assist them in complying with the cybersecurity requirements outlined in Directive 2018-15.

“To maintain the integrity of our elections, we must constantly be working at both the state and local levels to innovate and improve our elections security measures,” Secretary Husted said. “While this can sometimes be a daunting task, Ohio’s two-year colleges are well-positioned and have the expertise to help us achieve these goals.”

Ohio has designated $4.9 million of the more than $12 million in Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds for county boards of elections to enlist the help of IT consultants, known as “Pathfinders,” to meet various cybersecurity standards set by federal security resources. Today’s announcement allows for willing and capable community colleges to serve as these Pathfinders.

“The core mission of community colleges is to educate, elevate and serve our local communities and I can think of no better way of meeting this mission than by helping to ensure voters maintain faith in the election process,” said Dr. Steve Johnson, Sinclair Community College President. “Thanks to this partnership envisioned by Secretary Husted, cybersecurity and IT faculty from community colleges throughout the state will be able to offer their expertise to county boards of elections to make the security of our election system as strong as possible.”

In the directive issued last month, the Secretary of State’s Office instructed county boards of elections to utilize the Center for Internet Security’s Elections Infrastructure Playbook to identify areas IT and security improvements can be made. The directive also calls on boards to consult the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for phishing campaign assessment and vulnerability scanning.

Pathfinders will assist county boards in conducting this work and launching initiatives to meet requirements set forth in the various resources.

“Federal entities like the National Security Agency (NSA) and the DHS are realizing the many ways two-year colleges can assist in reducing cyber vulnerability and enhancing data security,” said Jack Hershey, President and CEO of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. “Several of Ohio’s community colleges have already stepped up to the plate to take active roles in this effort.”

The NSA and the DHS have jointly sponsored the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) program. The program is focused on reducing vulnerability in our national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense, while also producing professionals with cyber defense expertise.

Two-year institutions are included in this program and participating schools receive a CAE2Y designation. The CAE2Y designation has already been earned by three of Ohio’s two-year colleges: Clark State Community College, Sinclair Community College, and Terra State Community College.

In addition to Ohio’s community colleges, qualified public and private entities may also serve as Pathfinders.

Earlier this year, Congress appropriated additional HAVA funds to states as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. The initiative aims to improve the administration of federal elections, with a particular focus on security improvements and technological advancements. Ohio will receive a total of $12,186,021 in federal funding, while also providing a five percent match of $609,301 by March 23, 2020.

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