Pence affirms 'Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,' lays out plans to prevent it from happening again

  • Vice President Mike Pence spoke today at a Department of Homeland Security cybersecurity conference in Manhattan.
  • He addressed elections initiatives by the FBI and DHS meant to help state and local elections offices prepare for cyberattacks.
  • Pence stressed the importance of getting more information from private-sector companies about threats they are seeing on their networks.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 18, 2018.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, May 18, 2018.

Vice President Mike Pence described several new initiatives meant to prevent cyberattacks against U.S. elections systems on Tuesday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has formed a foreign influence task force, he said, aimed at investigating sources of nation-state backed election influence. DHS has launched the elections information sharing and analysis center, which includes participation from U.S. secretaries of state with the goal of sharing threat information to "help prevent attacks before they happen."

Pence said the moves would "elevate American security."

"We will be as dominant in the digital world as we are in the physical world," he said. He also affirmed findings from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

"The fact is Russia meddled in our 2016 elections. That's the unambiguous judgment of our intelligence community, and as the President said, we accept the intelligence community's conclusion," he said.

To combat cyber threats in the upcoming Congressional election, Pence said the administration is also deploying "new sensors" to detect threats, and 37 states have opted in so far, he said. Federal cybersecurity officials are also being deployed to state and local elections commissions. He cited a cyberattack in July against government services in Finney County, Kansas, including elections infrastructure, to which he said DHS responded and helped remediate.

Pence focused several comments on efforts to support better information exchanges between federal agencies and private sector companies. He referred to numerous types of attacks from countries other than Russia, including theft of intellectual property from China, the criminal intrusion of Equifax last year and the WannaCry ransomware attacks of 2017 that have been attributed to North Korea.

He also called out particularly damaging effects of global infrastructure attacks, another key focus of the conference:

"[Cyberattacks] also target our economy -- a single Russian malware attack last year cost a major American shipping company $400 million," said Pence, referring to the NotPetya cyberattack of June 2017, that deeply affected the supply chain of shipping giant FedEx.

Need for a new vantage point

Pence's comments followed statements by FedEx's chief information security officer Gene Sun, who outlined the damage suffered by the company in the June attacks last year. FedEx "saw the ripple effect of supply chain damages," Sun said "Medical supplies could not be shipped out. We quickly came to a few realizations, number one, that we as a logistics company cannot go it alone," he said.

The conference focused on the launch of a new National Risk Management Center, to help pool corporate and government cybersecurity information into one location. Facebook also announced earlier today that it had worked to take down 32 Instagram and Facebook accounts that were part of what the company called a "coordinated effort" to influence U.S. politics.