John Hickenlooper Mueller's testimony was a warning: America ignores Russia's ongoing cyberinvasion at our peril

The Trump administration should have immediately reinforced our election security at both the state and federal levels. This has not happened.
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A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, in Nashua, on Feb. 9, 2016.David Goldman / AP file
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By John Hickenlooper, Democratic presidential candidate and former Colorado governor

On Wednesday, America heard from former special counsel Robert Mueller about his investigation into Russia’s cyberinvasion of our country, especially our electoral system. Mueller stuck close to the conclusions of his report, and his answers regarding election security were clear. America’s elections continue to be at serious risk of foreign interference. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Inaction is not an option. We are going to need to find concrete solutions if we hope to safeguard our country from the very real cyberthreats his report identifies.

Although the president has rejected a mountain of facts and repeatedly asserted the process was a “witch hunt,” Congress is rightly focused on Mueller’s report.

Although the president has rejected a mountain of facts and repeatedly asserted the process was a “witch hunt,” Congress is rightly focused on Mueller’s report and the contacts between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians. According to the Moscow Project, there were 272 contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives, including at least 38 meetings.

I hope that as much attention will continue to be paid in the coming weeks and months to Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, for seeking to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. According to data shared with the HPSCI, Twitter had identified, in November 2017, almost 3,000 Twitter accounts connected to the Russian Internet Research Agency and designed to impersonate U.S. news and political organizations.

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Twitter also admitted that, during the final weeks of the campaign, there were more than 130,000 tweets by accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency and more than 36,000 Russian-linked bot accounts tweeting about the election.

But the Russian cyberinvasion had a second front. Russian intelligence targeted the infrastructure of American elections. According to the Mueller report, Russian intelligence targeted “U.S. state and local entities, such as state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and county governments,” as well as private election technology firms. In states such as Illinois and Florida, the Russians gained access to millions of voter files. This is the nuclear weapon of election hacking. If the Russians were able to change a result, how would Americans ever trust their system again?

Once inaugurated, the Trump administration should have immediately reinforced our election security at both the state and federal levels. Unfortunately, White House aides have reportedly been blocked from briefing Trump on cyberthreats. And, The Associated Press recently reported that key battleground states are struggling to defend their election infrastructure, in part, because they are reliant on Windows 7. Yes, Windows 7!

According to the AP, when Windows 7 reaches its “end of life” in January (nearly 10 months before the 2020 election), Microsoft will start charging election authorities for the security patches that prevent hackers from gaining control of critical election systems. States and counties will have to decide whether to spend more money on security patches or other options that will help ensure elections proceed smoothly — like more election workers, equipment or polling stations. Upgrading to Windows 10 can cost millions and take months to certify.

What’s more, the House passed legislation June 27 that would make available $600 million more in funding for election security in the states. But the funding appears to be stuck in the Senate. So, despite bipartisan requests from the states, funding election security has become a partisan issue in Washington.

Despite bipartisan requests from the states, funding election security has become a partisan issue in Washington.

In Colorado, we don’t have time for the food fights happening in Washington. A low-grade cyberwar is already raging, often targeting our government, businesses and critical infrastructure systems.

So, I didn’t wait for Washington. Instead, as governor, I allocated state funds to help open the National Cybersecurity Center in Colorado Springs. While Trump was fuming in his bathrobe about border walls, I was focused on reinforcing our firewalls in Colorado and across the country.

As president, I will shift U.S. cybersecurity efforts into higher gear. I will create a new position, Director of National Cybersecurity, to coordinate all our national cybersecurity priorities. This new director will bring our national security and intelligence agencies together to create an immediate plan to protect Americans and harness emerging technologies, including A.I. As president, I would also greatly expand the already existing partnership that works to protect our critical infrastructure and industrial control systems across federal, state and private sector levels. Cooperation must be seamless.

Our enemies cannot be allowed to undermine our democracy without consequence. We must sharpen our offensive cyber capabilities and develop policies clarifying how we use them. Our adversaries will know the price for their malign behavior. Through constant engagement and alignment with our allies, we will create a legal framework aimed at preventing cyberthreats from escalating into war.

The time to deal with this threat is now — before some hostile actor turns off our lights or crashes the Pentagon’s computers. At a press conference in July of 2016, Trump uttered four now-infamous words: “Russia, if you’re listening...” As you can see, I have a different approach: Russia, if you’re listening, we’re on to you. And we’re going to finally do something about it.