Critical Infrastructure Security , Cyberwarfare / Nation-State Attacks , Endpoint Security

Fired CISA Director Refutes Election Fraud Allegations

In '60 Minutes' Interview, Christopher Krebs Says Paper Ballots Secured Election
Fired CISA Director Refutes Election Fraud Allegations
Christopher Krebs, former director of CISA, refuted claims that the presidential election was fraudulent.

Former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure and Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs revealed in his first post-firing TV interview exactly what made officials confident the presidential election results were accurate: paper ballots.

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Krebs gave an exclusive interview on Sunday to Scott Pelley of the CBS news program "60 Minutes." Krebs didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but he refuted claims by his administration and personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that the election was fraudulent.

Election Day “was quiet,” says Krebs, whom "60 Minutes" identified as a lifelong Republican. “And there was no indication or evidence that there was any sort of hacking or compromise of election systems on, before or after Nov. 3.”

Paper ballots were key, Krebs says. Ninety-five percent of the ballots cast in the presidential election had a paper record, which meant that it was possible to recount and prove no malicious computer software interfered, Krebs says. That’s compared to 82 percent in 2016.

Paper ballots “give you the ability to prove that there was no malicious algorithm or hacked software that adjusted the tally of the vote, and just look at what happened in Georgia,” Krebs says. “Georgia has machines that tabulate the vote. They then held a hand recount, and the outcome was consistent with the machine vote.”

Georgia’s recount resulted in about 1,400 more votes for Trump, but Biden maintained his lead to win the state. Wisconsin’s recount led to 132 more votes for Biden, who also won that state.

Krebs continued: “That tells you that there was no manipulation of the vote on the machine count side. And so that pretty thoroughly, in my opinion, debunks some of these sensational claims out there – that I've called nonsense and a hoax - that there is some hacking of these election vendors and their software and their systems across the country. It's – it's just – it's nonsense.”

Voting experts have long warned against a type of voting machine called DRE, short for Direct Recording Electronic. Some of those types of machines do not create a paper trail, and researchers have found some models have inaccurately tallied votes. Georgia is one state that has replaced DRE machines without a paper trail.

Many other states still use DRE machines, but they use a type that creates what’s called a voter-verified paper audit trail, which can be relied on for auditing. A full list of the voting equipment in place in various states can be found at Ballotpedia.

On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted a response to the Krebs interview, claiming the administration was not asked for a comment and disputing the security of the election. Twitter flagged the tweet with a disclaimer about election fraud.

On Monday, Joe diGenova, an attorney for Trump's campaign, took the criticism of Krebs a dangerous step further, giving an interview to a radio host that called for violence against the former director, according to a report from CNN.

CISA: Helping States

Trump fired Krebs by tweet on Nov. 16, a move that was expected as senior Department of Homeland Security officials suddenly resigned (see: Trump Fires Christopher Krebs, Head of CISA).

The National Protection and Programs Directorate became CISA in November 2018 after Trump approved its creation. Trump also nominated Krebs to head it. The agency, which falls under the DHS, is charged with protecting government networks, and a key mission is reducing cybersecurity election risks.

CISA created meticulous guidelines and checklists for local governments and campaigns designed to reduce risk. The agency worked with states to ensure their voter registration systems – which were targeted by Russia in 2016 – were secure. It also provided advice to local governments and assisted them in responding to incidents.

In the month leading up to Election Day, DHS warned that Russia posed the most serious threat to the election. Also, U.S. officials blamed Iran for a ham-fisted email campaign that drew on public voter registration data and threatened Democratic voters (see: US Alleges Iran Sent Threatening Emails to Democrats). There were also fears that ransomware might be deployed, hampering computer systems integral to vote tallying.

To battle misinformation, CISA created a feature on its website called Rumor Control. It addressed some of the more egregious examples of circulating misinformation, such as: If election results change over time as votes are counted, it may be a sign of hacking or compromise.

Rising Tension

Trump secured early leads in some states but fell behind in the count as election officials caught up on mail-in ballots, which are more labor-intensive to count. Trump went on the offensive with a variety of claims, including that dead people voted, ballots were thrown out, poll workers committed fraud and tabulation errors were made.

When Trump tweeted that machines made by Dominion Voting Systems deleted millions of votes, the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, which includes CISA, the National Association of Secretaries of State and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, sought to repel the accusation.

“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” the group said in a Nov. 12 statement.

Although some states have uncovered minor tabulation errors, no evidence of fraud has emerged, and electoral results have been unchanged. The Trump administration has filed at least two dozen lawsuits that have been rejected by judges.

But the tension between CISA and the Trump administration, which asserted opposite stories about the security of the election, put the two on a collision course.

Krebs resumed tweeting under his personal Twitter account shortly after he was fired by Trump two weeks ago. He became more pointed in his comments about the election, warning Americans to ignore misinformation and advocating that paper ballots and diligent recounts have affirmed the results.

One of Krebs’ sharpest tweets after he was fired came on Nov. 19. That day, Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani, made a variety of claims in a 105-minute press conference. One of those claims is that ballots from 28 states were sent to be counted in Germany and Spain.

When asked by "60 Minutes" about Giuliani’s press conference, Krebs said: “It was upsetting because what I saw was an apparent attempt to undermine confidence in the election, to confuse people, to scare people.

“It's not me, it's not just CISA. It's the tens of thousands of election workers out there that had been working nonstop, 18-hour days, for months. They're getting death threats for trying to carry out one of our core democratic institutions, an election. And that was, again, to me, a press conference that I just - it didn't make sense. What it was actively doing was undermining democracy. And that's dangerous.”

When Trump fired Krebs via tweet, the president claimed Krebs made “highly inaccurate” statements. Asked about his dismissal, Krebs didn’t address Trump directly.

“I think … the thing that upsets me the most about that is I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to my team,” Krebs says. “And I'd worked with them for three and a half years, in the trenches. Building an agency, putting CISA on the national stage. And I love that team. And I didn't get a chance to say goodbye, so that's what I'm most upset about.”

About the Author

Jeremy Kirk

Jeremy Kirk

Executive Editor, Security and Technology, ISMG

Kirk was executive editor for security and technology for Information Security Media Group. Reporting from Sydney, Australia, he created "The Ransomware Files" podcast, which tells the harrowing stories of IT pros who have fought back against ransomware.

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