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DHS official says voters should be confident in election — and patient for its results

With only a few days remaining before Election Day, U.S. security officials anticipate that millions of Americans will be exposed to even more misinformation online than they already have. Christopher Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, joins William Brangham to discuss the effort to detect and mitigate misinformation.

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  • William Brangham:

    With just days to go before the election, U.S. security officials worry that millions of Americans will be exposed to even more misinformation online.

    Christopher Krebs is one of those who's watching out for it. He is the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security.

    Chris Krebs, great to have you back on the "NewsHour."

    We will get to misinformation in a moment.

    But, first, I want to talk about our voting systems.

    Millions of people have already voted. Millions more will vote next week. How confident are you that our myriad voting systems all over the country are ready for next week?

  • Christopher Krebs:

    I'm glad you started with this, because this is what we have been focusing on, working with state and local election officials now for going on three-and-a-half years, really trying to get to the bottom of where the vulnerabilities might be in the election systems, in those technologies that support the voting progress across the country.

    We have just made remarkable progress. The evidence supports that. The security of these systems has improved. But, most importantly, the resilience of the system has dramatically improved.

    And what that really means is paper. Paper is more prevalent in the voting process than recent history. In 2016, 80-some-odd percent, 82 percent of the votes cast had a paper ballot associated with the vote. Now we're on track for something on the order of like 95 percent.

    And what that paper does — and it's analog. It's really that kind of keep-it-simple approach, but it allows us to conduct audits, and make sure that the count is accurate. And that's the level of confidence that I have.

    It's based on the paper, based on the security of the systems that's improved, that your vote, the American voter's vote is secure, the count is secure, and then the certification process is secure.

  • William Brangham:

    You put out a statement the other day noting that tens of millions of Americans have already voted with no interference.

    But I'm curious, how do we know that? I mean, you and the FBI and the director of national intelligence alerted us last week to this Iranian and Russian interference, some of which targeted voter registration.

    If we know about those attacks, do you worry at all that there might be infiltration that we are not aware of?

  • Christopher Krebs:

    So, it's certainly possible.

    But, look, there's — at this point, about 70-some-odd million folks have voted. But when we think about what we have accomplished in terms of improving security, we have also improved the ability to detect compromises or anomalous activity.

    And that's through the systems, the cybersecurity systems we have deployed, the improved cybersecurity of the state and local systems, as well as the reporting relationships, both from law enforcement, the intelligence community, and state local partners.

    So, even if there were something out there, we would be able to get on top of it as soon as we detected it, mitigate it.

    And one point I'd like to highlight is that the fact that so many people have voted early — I think, again, like 73 million at this point — that really stretches out the window of opportunity for bad guys to get in the way. And that's a good thing, because that means we can detect it earlier, get on top of it, mitigate it, so we're not all piled up on November 3 and overwhelmed.

  • William Brangham:

    As I mentioned, a lot of your work is also targeting misinformation. I mean, in some ways, you're trying to teach Americans how to be immune to this type of misinformation and falsehoods.

    So, as next week looms large, what are the kinds of key things you want voters to be thinking about?

  • Christopher Krebs:

    Well, first off, we have been thinking through a number of different scenarios, again, focusing on the cybersecurity of these systems, but also gaining out, how might cybersecurity issues and incidents and disinformation intersect?

    And one thing we came up with is, you might see various actors, foreign powers, claim that they were able to accomplish something, they were able to hack a database or hack the vote count. And it's just simply not true.

    It's — there's going to be a lot of noise in the next week-and-a-half or so. And what we have done through right here, rumor control, cisa.gov/rumorcontrol, is try to identify some of these possible issues, and then give the American people the facts on what foreign actors might try to do, and so that, if they're presented with these claims, these sensational, unverified claims, they can think, you know what, I was expecting this, and it's just not true, and I need to keep calm and vote on, is what we're saying.

  • William Brangham:

    As we reported earlier, the CEOs of three of the major tech companies were on Capitol Hill today being questioned about their efforts to try to put a lid on falsehoods and misinformation, and criticism on both sides.

    You're in partnership with those tech companies themselves to try to stamp out misinformation about the election. Do you think they're doing the right thing? Are they taking this seriously enough?

  • Christopher Krebs:

    Well, what I always try to do is compare and contrast. How were we operating in 2016?

    I think it's unquestionable that everybody was caught by surprise, whether in the government or in the social media space, even the American people. And that's what kind of made the 2016 Russian interference so — made it resonate, really made it so scary.

    But now we have had this four-year intervening period where everybody's improved. The government's improved, the intelligence community, my team, the law enforcement.

    But there's no question that the social media platforms have improved their ability to detect foreign interference activities happening across their platform.

    Now, look, we're making advancements, improvements as we go along, and there will be lessons learned coming out of the 2020, so that 2022, we're better, 2024, we're better. This is kind of a generational struggle, as I see it.

  • William Brangham:

    Lastly, and just quickly, you recently warned voters — I'm going to read this here — "to be prepared for efforts to call into question the legitimacy of the election."

    I certainly understand that, especially if the vote count is protracted. But the one person who regularly does cast doubt on the legitimacy of this election is the president.

    I mean, am I wrong that his rhetoric seems 100 percent opposite your mission?

  • Christopher Krebs:

    Look, he's on the ballot, right? He wants to win.

    The thing he wants to know as quickly as possible, ideally, next Tuesday, who's going to win? But that might not happen that night. It may take time.

    And the unofficial process that's set in — or, rather, the official process that state — set in state law dictates that it takes a little bit longer. And we're — again, we're just asking people to have a little patience. It may take a little bit longer due to the expanded absentee ballots. And it may take longer to process and get to the certification.

    And, really, more anything, that earlier count is a media projection anyway. So, again, what we're asking American voters to do is just have a little patience, and we will get to the end of this one soon enough.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Christopher Krebs, thanks very much for being here.

  • Christopher Krebs:

    Hey, thanks so much.

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