White House weighs response to alleged Russia hacks

The Obama administration might retaliate against Russia for alleged hacks on political targets, while DHS advises state and local governments to shore up election system security.

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The Obama administration is weighing possible responses to alleged Russian hacking of U.S. political targets in the wake of public attribution by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National intelligence.

Any U.S. response would be proportional, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One on Oct. 11.

"It is unlikely that our response would be announced in advance," Earnest said. "It's certainly possible that the president could choose response options that we never announce. The president has talked before about the significant capabilities that the U.S. government has to both defend our systems in the United States but also carry out offensive operations in other countries."

Without being specific, Earnest cited a range of options, including sanctions or some other retaliatory action.

Meanwhile, time is running out for state and local governments to run scans and mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities in voting systems ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in an Oct. 10 statement. He added that time is a factor for his agency to help with possible cybersecurity issues in election systems.

As of Oct. 10, 33 states and 11 county or local election agencies had requested DHS' cybersecurity services -- up from the 21 inquiries DHS had tallied as of Oct. 1.

The scans and vulnerability identifications DHS can perform at states' request can take up to two weeks from initial authorization to completion. Mitigation of any discovered vulnerabilities could take up to another week to complete, according to Johnson.

Potential hacks and electronic tampering with voting systems have become concerns after the discovery of hacks of Democratic National Committee servers and probes of election systems in Arizona and Illinois.

On Oct. 7, DHS and ODNI accused Russia of being behind the hacks of DNC servers but said they couldn't attribute the probes of state election systems to the Russian government, although they were traced to companies in that country.

In remarks at an Oct. 10 conference in Silicon Valley, Secretary of State John Kerry said the goal of attributing the DNC hacks to Russia was "to put the people doing it on notice that they're not 'getting away with it' for free, as well as to put states on notice that we're serious when we say they need to take every measure possible to guarantee the integrity of our elections."

In his statement, Johnson reminded states that DHS can perform remote hygiene scans and risk and vulnerability assessments on internet-facing systems and recommend improvements to systems that handle online voter registration, election night reporting and related activities.

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