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Colorado Prepares For Possible Cyberattacks With Election 'War Games'


Some state election officials have been conducting war games. That, at least, is how they refer to the practice drills for fending off efforts to hack the election. Here's Nathaniel Minor of Colorado Public Radio.

NATHANIEL MINOR, BYLINE: I'm in a hotel conference room in suburban Denver. It's packed.

AMBER MCREYNOLDS: OK. We're going to get started. I forgot my cow bell at home.

MINOR: Dozens of local election officials are gathered around tables. Each have been assigned a role to play in these games, like public information officer or county clerk - pretty much what they do in real life.

MCREYNOLDS: The intent is for this to be the Armageddon of Election Day. There's going to be a lot of things that'll happen.

MINOR: I hunker down with County 3. It's a mythical ski town community with fewer than 30,000 voters. Real-life Jefferson County Elections Director Gary VandeStouwe ticks through their assets.

GARY VANDESTOUWE: We have four uninterruptable power supplies capable of running the VSPCs.

MINOR: VSPCs, also known as polling places. The table gets ready for the first challenge, and then it drops. A fake headline goes up on the projector screen at the front of the room. The credit credit-monitoring Transunion has been hacked. Again, this is a simulation. Voters' Social Security numbers and other personal information was made public. Real-life communications professional Kristi Ridlen jumps into action.

KRISTI RIDLEN: So considering it was a statewide issue and a state network, I think the PIO would reach out to their communication person. So I would reach out to the state.

MINOR: For the next couple of hours, this team deals with a whole slew of hypothetical problems. A fire alarm gets pulled in a county office building. When the staff get back into the office, they discover an unauthorized USB stick in a computer. A heater in the vote-counting center goes out on Election Day. These are all what-ifs, but the attendees here take it seriously. During a break, Ridlen says she's already learned some things she'll take back to her job at the clerk's office in Colorado Springs.

RIDLEN: They did provide some scenarios that I have not thought of. So that's been really, really beneficial for me. You know, maybe I should be thinking a little more outside of the box of what could go wrong or what may happen.

MINOR: David Becker is the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research in Washington. He came out to Colorado to observe the event.

DAVID BECKER: And it's also very helpful to show voters that this is very much on the mind of election officials, that they are singularly focused on an effort to prevent any intrusion into our election systems despite the efforts of Russia and others to invade our systems and to reduce voter confidence.

MINOR: Officials here expect purposeful attacks on the voting system only to increase. They hope that by practicing one crazy scenario after another, they'll be ready if the day comes.

For NPR News, I'm Nathaniel Minor in Englewood, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathaniel Minor