By Jon Dougherty

(NationalSentinel) Cybersecurity experts are becoming increasingly concerned that foreign state actors could breach electronic voting machines next year during the presidential election and potentially alter the outcome.

As reported by Fifth Domain, a new survey of 345 cybersecurity professionals by Black Hat USA found that 63 percent of respondents believe that the hacking of voting machines in the next election is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to have a “significant impact” on election results.

That said, U.S. government officials have said boosting cybersecurity for election and balloting infrastructure has been prioritized during the Trump administration. In fact, one senior intelligence official said during a June 24 press conference call that defending the infrastructure was “our highest priority.”

“We do believe that the 2020 elections are a potential target for state and non-state cyber actors and we continue to observe unknown actors attempt suspicious and malicious activity against internet-connected infrastructure periodically,” the senior intelligence official said, according to Fifth Domain.

The site added:

The official added that the government has no indication that “any foreign adversary has disrupted or corrupted elements of the election infrastructure, such as voting machines and/or vote tally systems that are preparing for the 2020 general election.”

The official said that the intelligence community is tracking efforts “from several countries” to influence the United States election. According to the Black Hat survey, 63 percent of cyber professionals said it is likely that Russian cyber initiatives will have a significant impact on the 2020 election.

“Russia’s goal is to pit Americans against each other because they believe at this juncture a divided America is consistent with their specific interests,” said the senior intelligence official.

Last year, Congress approved $380 million to states so they could improve election security. And House Democrats on June 27 passed legislation that would provide an additional $775 million in grants to states over the course of two years to increase election cybersecurity while prohibiting election systems from being connected to the Internet, according to the Associated Press.

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It’s not clear the Senate will take up the legislation, however.

As to the Black Hat survey, 40 percent of respondents said large nation-states are the biggest threat to critical sectors of the U.S. economy and election infrastructure.

And 16 percent said the greatest threat to the cybersecurity of the nation’s critical infrastructure was the “lack of coordination between U.S. government entities and private industry.”

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One senior administration official said increasing interoperability and cooperation between public and private entities was also a priority.

“We put a great deal of importance on sharing information, especially threat indicators with U.S companies, especially social media companies, tech companies and election service providers,” another senior administration official told Fifth Domain.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents, meanwhile, did not agree with the statement “I believe that government and private industry are adequately prepared to respond to a major breach of US critical infrastructure.”

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