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West Virginia Secretary of State Warner learns about digital security Ideas


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner spent time last week in the nation’s capital taking part in a project designed to protect America’s elections from cyberattacks.

Mac Warner, W.Va. Secretary of State
The bipartisan “Defending Digital Democracy” project aims to bring together leaders in politics, cybersecurity and national security to identify and recommend strategies for safeguarding America’s elections processes and systems. Robby Mook, former campaign manager for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and Matt Rhoades, former campaign manager for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, are co-leaders of the project.

Warner was one of four secretaries of state to attend the program last week, noting he joined in an effort to inform voters about cyberattacks and how they can affect the voting system. He said Mook spoke about last year’s presidential election, marked by allegations of interference by Russian hackers.

“He said you can either get bitter or you can get better,” Warner said of Mook. “There is a tendency to head towards bitter, but he decided to take his negative experience towards something positive and that is protecting digital democracy.”

Warner said he knew he wanted to be a part of the project after hearing entities such as the FBI, the National Security Agency, Facebook and Google were involved.

“(They’re) highly competitive in the capital market, but in the security arena they are allies,” Warner said of Facebook and Google.

Even speculation about the influence of cyberattacks on elections can be enough to undermine democracy, according to Warner.

“The Russians are using Facebook (for) fake news. If they can erode enough confidence in our democratic process, then they can get people to say, ‘Well, I don’t want to register,’ or ‘I don’t want to vote because my vote doesn’t count cause all this hacking is going on,’” he said.

The event included “simulation seminars” in which participants performed alongside Harvard University students.

“These are not your typical graduates and they are bringing their expertise to the table to defend digital democracy with the help of Google and Facebook,” Warner said.

Vulnerablities were found through these seminars, in addition to assets the United States holds over other countries. The information learned will help to protect against cyberattacks in the future — or, as Warner says, “Protect, detect, correct.”

This event was held in Washington to see how others would receive the information — and those in attendance were impressed. according to Warner. There is the possibility of another seminar at the Facebook headquarters on the West Coast later this year for further discussion.

Warner said he felt privileged to be part of last week’s event, and he plans to use what he’s learned to inform the people of West Virginia and help him in his role of overseeing the state’s elections.

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