Lawmaker proposes cyber squad to educate campaign pros

Rep. Terri Sewell wants the federal government to take a hand in improving the cyber hygiene of political campaigns.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.)

New legislation proposed by Rep. Terry Sewell would give the government a new role in campaign cybersecurity.

Computer attacks on political targets are becoming a regular feature of the election landscape. The email of Hillary Clinton's top campaign adviser was stolen via a phishing effort and published on Wikileaks. More recently it was revealed that President Donald Trump's inner circle was victimized by an email prank designed to get officials to respond to fake messages.

One member of Congress wants the federal government to take a lead role in improving the cyber savvy of political operatives.

Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) wants the Election Assistance Commission to establish a program to train political operatives to defend themselves against the dark arts of hackers, and she wants the Department of Homeland Security to take a role in making sure political campaigns are using up-to-date computer security.

The E-Security Fellows Act, introduced July 28, would establish the new group at EAC. As envisioned by its sponsors, the E-Security Fellows would train between 50 and 200 campaign staff every two-year election cycle. The EAC would be charged with determining who is eligible to participate in the program, according to a Sewell spokesperson. Campaign staffers would learn how to prevent cyberattacks, be taught protocol for reporting intrusions and get training on how to secure networks that are under attack. The program would also instruct fellows to disseminate lessons learned to their colleagues on campaign staffs.

Campaigns would pay staffers while they attended the program and the EAC would pick up the cost of the training. While the bill hasn't been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, backers anticipate that it will be a low-cost endeavor.

Sewell also offered the "Securing and Heightening the Integrity of our Elections and Lawful Democracy Act," which instructs DHS to coordinate cybersecurity efforts with political campaigns, including information sharing on cybersecurity risks and computer security updates. The bill also establishes an Election Security Board of Advisers at DHS "to make recommendations about securing elections against cybersecurity risks."

"Campaign staff are our first line of defense against cyberattacks targeting our elections," Sewell said in an emailed statement to FCW. "Ensuring that they are able to recognize, report, and respond to cyber threats is a matter of national security. Coordinating the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security, the Election Assistance Commission, and campaign officials to defend against cyberattacks is a commonsense solution for protecting the integrity of our democracy."