Secretary Williams’ war games, election style proves to be epic

Colorado Secretary of State shakes hands with Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen before her keynote speech at Colorado’s Election Preparedness for Infrastructure and Cybersecurity exercise Thursday. (DHS photo)

The role-playing was, well, EPIC.

When election and cybersecurity officials from Colorado and and other parts of the nation gathered for a training exercise, they were given assignments to play as various election disaster scenarios played out.

Misleading tweets that confuse voters. Equipment outages. Hackers.

Eagle County Clerk Regina O’Brien served as a county election director.

Dwight Shellman, the county support manager for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, plays the role of a reporter asking tough questions during a mock election disaster drill.  He is interviewing Tammy Patrick of Democracy Fund, while in the background is the SOS’s Steve Bouey. (SOS photo)

Pitkin County Clerk Janice Vos Caudill portrayed her former employee, Dwight Shellman, who now is the county support manager for the Secretary of State’s office.

And Shellman assumed the identity of various Denver reporters, from the Colorado Sun’s John Frank to 9News’ Marshall Zellinger, asking tough questions of election officials.

“I out Marshalled Marshall,” Shellman boasted.

Welcome to war games, election style or, as the exercise was officially dubbed, EPIC — Election Preparedness for Infrastructure and Cybersecurity.

The goal, Secretary of State Wayne Williams said, was to help prepare Colorado election officials for the Nov. 6 election. Clerks, their staffers, county IT officials and others gathered in five separate rooms and were instructed to deal with the scenarios that were unfolding.

Read moreSecretary Williams’ war games, election style proves to be epic

SOS staffer attends Def Con conference, says Colorado looks good

Colorado election officials at Def Con’s voting hacking village. Left to right: Dwight Shellman, county support manager for the Secretary of State, Amber McReynolds, Denver elections director, and Jennifer Morrell, Democracy Fund consultant. (Photo by Joe Kiniry, who led the team at Free & Fair that helped develop software for Colorado’s first-in-the country risk-limiting audit. )

Secretary of State staffer Dwight Shellman returned from a hacking convention with the message that although Colorado’s elections are secure from the types of voting machine and website attacks demonstrated at the conference, state and local officials need to remain vigilant.

The 26th annual Def Con conference featured a large number of “villages” in which attendees learned about and sometimes attempted to hack a broad range of technologies and platforms, including automobile software and cannabis cultivation technologies. .

Def Con’s voting village logo. (Def Con photo)

Shellman, the county support manager for the state Elections Division, focused most of his attention on the Voting Village, which invited participants to test “more than 30 pieces of electronic voting equipment” and “defend or hack mock office network and voter registration databases,” according to Def Con’s website.

He witnessed kiddie hackers gain access — but said the whole story wasn’t reported.

Read moreSOS staffer attends Def Con conference, says Colorado looks good

Homeland Security “hunts” at Colorado Secretary of State’s office

The “bad boys” of the Colorado Secretary of State’s IT department: Craig Buesing and Dave Shepard, network and security engineers, Trevor Timmons, chief information officer, and Rich Schliep, chief information security officer. (SOS photo)

At the invitation of Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Department of Homeland Security officials came to Colorado hunting for bad guys in the SOS’s network.

Did they bag anything?

“I learned a new acronym: NSTR — Nothing Significant to Report,” said  Trevor Timmons, the Secretary of State’s office chief information officer.

The exercise is the latest effort by Williams to ensure that Colorado’s elections are accurate and secure. The Washington Post recently wrote about “how Colorado became the safest state to cast a vote.” Colorado already had implemented many of the measures recommended after election officials learned of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.

Read moreHomeland Security “hunts” at Colorado Secretary of State’s office

The Facebook Effect in Colorado

The graphic Facebook showed on users’ news feeds. (SOS photo)

If you have been on Facebook in the past month, there’s a good chance the above graphic showed up on your news feed.

Facebook reminded users of the upcoming primary election on June 26 and encouraged users to register to vote or share that they are registered.

The impact was significant —

“More people registered and more people updated their registration on Tuesday, June 12th than did so on Election Day,” said Judd Choate, the state election director for the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.

This was the first year unaffiliated voters were allowed to automatically participate. Secretary Williams launched the UChooseCO campaign to inform voters about the new process. Williams handed out wooden U’s for people to decorate and help spread the word. The UChooseCO campaign has a web pageFacebook page, a Twitter account and its own hashtag, #UChooseCO.

Elections guru praises Colorado’s methods

David Becker, right, with the center for Election Innovation and Research, was in Colorado one week ago for the primary election. In January, Becker attended the Colorado County Clerks Association Conference with Dwight Shellman, left, of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, and Jennifer Morrell, formerly the election director at the Arapahoe County Clerk’s office and now a consultant with Democracy Fund. (SOS photo)

Colorado received high praise from election security guru David Becker, who was in Colorado to observe the primary election one week ago.

Becker, the founder and director of Election Innovation & Research, wrote about what he observed in his blog.

“It was a great opportunity to watch professionals in their environment and see how their work isn’t static,” Becker said. “They are constantly seeking improvements in security and efficiency.”

This was the first time in Colorado history that unaffiliated voters were allowed to automatically participate.

“David asked to observe Colorado’s primary election to get a better sense of the security protocols we utilize and see our election in practice, Judd Choate, Colorado state elections director said. “We were happy to host him.”

Becker spent the day between the Secretary of State’s office and Denver Elections. He observed how a ballot is received and tabulated in Denver, and noted how calm the process is because most Coloradans vote by mail.

At the Secretary of State’s office, Becker witnessed information sharing about potential cyber threats throughout the day.

“Colorado and Denver County are at the leading edge of blending efficiency, convenience, and security for voters,” he said. “Even in the face of significant threats from foreign countries and others, thanks to examples like those in Colorado and Denver County – and many other places – election cybersecurity is improving substantially and will continue to improve through 2018 and 2020.”