At least three states reportedly targeted by Russian hackers during the 2016 election are part of a new group of states working together with the National Governors Association to enhance cybersecurity as the 2020 election cycle approaches.

Election systems in Arizona, Minnesota and Virginia were targeted by Russian hackers in 2016, according to data compiled by the Washington Post. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that their election systems had been targeted by Russian hackers during the last presidential election cycle, but did not publicly identify the states.

Now, the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan organization that supports governors across the country, will partner with those states as well as Hawaii, Idaho and Nevada to develop new cybersecurity practices to “ensure the integrity of elections in their states.” The organization will work with state officials from June to December, according to a press release from the association June 5.

State election security is a primary concern in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election cycle. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that their election systems .

“Idaho wants to be at the forefront of solutions for enhanced cybersecurity around elections,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, said in a statement to Fifth Domain. “Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and I are committed to citizen trust in our elections process, which is essential to the preservation of our representative democracy.”

The new partnership comes just a few months after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailed Russian hackers attempts to breach state election systems during the 2016 cycle.

“Victims included U.S. state and local entities, such as state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and county governments, as well as individuals who worked for those entities,” the report read.

Russian intelligence officials, “sought access to state and local computer networks by exploiting known software vulnerabilities on websites of state and local governmental entities,” the report continued.

In March 2018, the federal government distributed $380 million in grants across all 50 states to improve election security. In January 2017, shortly before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the outgoing Homeland Security secretary designated “election infrastructure” as a critical infrastructure, which gives the federal government more power to assist states.

During the 2018 cycle, the Russian government continued its attempts to influence the election through misinformation. However, a November joint press release from DHS, the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said officials there had no evidence that election infrastructure was compromised. Still, states want to be proactive on election security.

“By participating in this NGA program, Hawaii expects to further improve its cybersecurity practices by receiving additional guidance on emerging threats from subject matter experts, by developing more focused response plans for election system incidents, and by better coordinating communication to internal and external audiences about election security issues,” a spokesman for Hawaii Gov. David Ige said.

The academy will include a two-day workshop in each state and a minimum of once-a-month virtual meetings with association staff to develop state action plans.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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