Polis activates National Guard cybersecurity unit ahead of November’s election

Primary Day Voting Ballot Drop Off Denver
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Denver Elections Division’s drive through ballot-drop-off station on Bannock Street on Primary Election Day June 30, 2020.

Gov. Jared Polis activated up to nine members of the Colorado National Guard’s cybersecurity division Friday, in preparation for the upcoming November election. 

The Colorado National Guard Defensive Cyber Operations Element is specially trained in “defensively-oriented” cyber operations, according to the National Guard. Polis activated the unit in an executive order on the request of Secretary of State Jena Griswold. 

The unit aims to provide election support by participating in “training activities” and assisting with cybersecurity defense efforts until the election ends on November 4. The order says threats to the online voter registration system are the primary concern. 

“Even with such security features, online voter registration systems could provide an avenue for cyber actors to gain unlawful access to voter registration databases. While cyber actors are unable to modify voter records, breaches could result in the release of voters’ personally identifiable information,” the order says.

The National Guard has been bolstering its election cybersecurity resources since 2016. It has continued to expand as public officials remain cautious about potential attacks from Russian bots and hackers. A 2019 Senate Intelligence Committee report found Russia targeted voting systems in all 50 states in 2016.

Colorado is no stranger to cyberattacks. In addition to attacks targeting public sectors, like the ransomware attack that forced the city of Lafayette to pay hackers $45,000, private companies in the state have been targeted. Most notably, JBS USA, the world’s largest meat producer, was hit with a ransomware attack that disrupted work at its Greeley plant for several days.