By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig, Pennsylvania National GuardNovember 6, 2019
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - Approximately 30 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard joined other state agencies at three locations Nov. 5 to ensure the security of the commonwealth's general election.
A team at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) focused on network monitoring, while teams at Fort Indiantown Gap and Horsham Air Guard Station focused on social media reporting.
"The cyber team is essential because from past experience, there has been interference in prior elections and Pennsylvania has been targeted," said Maj. Christine Pierce, Pennsylvania defensive cyber operations element team chief. "It's a critical mission because there is a valid threat out there."
For the team at PEMA, the goal is to look at public-facing state websites like the election returns website to ensure it's not defaced, there is no interruption, and the firewalls that prevent any intrusions remain in place. The other teams report what they find on social media using keyword searches to Pierce's team at PEMA, who then report to the Pennsylvania Department of State, which is responsible for running elections in the Commonwealth.
"Election Day is not just about cyber for us," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Anthony Carrelli, Pennsylvania's adjutant general, who added that normally the Guard would not respond to a power outage unless there is a threat to life or property, but "Election Day is different, we're here to keep those polls open. The idea is to have all polling stations open and available, to include the electronic systems."
Though Pa. Guard is prepared to support the election in any capacity required, the focus of those activated Nov. 5 was cybersecurity, with several points of vulnerability.
"There is the potential for the voting systems themselves to be hacked into, but they are not networked. Cybersecurity is most critical when the counties are consolidating the votes and electronically transmitting the data to the Department of State, which certifies the elections," said Pierce.
The Pennsylvania National Guard has the best resources to address this threat because between the Army cyber team, and the 112th Cyber Operations Squadron, we've been working together for years on the elections initiative, we are trained to the highest level, and we do domestic cyber operations almost daily she explained.
"We've been working for years to get to this one day," said Carrelli. "You can't just treat this as a single-day event, election security is every day."
Since 2016, Pa. Guard cyber branch has partnered with the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security and expanded to working with the private sector, colleges and universities, and a range of agencies at the local, state and federal levels.
The Pennsylvania National Guard is always ready to ensure the safety and security of all Pennsylvanians and to support our partners in state government.