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Malware and the Midterms in Suffolk County

Thu, 09/29/2022 - 10:58

The board of elections deals with fallout of county attack

While Suffolk County's online voter portal is down, people who have business with the county board of elections, including registering to vote or requesting absentee ballots can do so in person at the board's Yaphank headquarters or by mail.
Christine Sampson

The ongoing malware crisis that has afflicted Suffolk County computer systems for three weeks should not impact elections here, according to Betty Manzella, the Republican commissioner with the Suffolk County Board of Elections in Yaphank.

When Suffolk County announced the cyberattack on Sept. 8, Ms. Manzella said the board of elections took immediate steps to disconnect its servers from the county’s information technology infrastructure, per contingency guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Given all the news you’re seeing and the negativity about the county, people shouldn’t have that doomsday outlook about voting in the midterms,” said Ms. Manzella. “We want people to feel confident that we have all the contingencies in place, that we’re on top of it.”

While there have been “a few glitches we’ve had to deal with” as a result of the malware attack, she said “people should feel confident that the election is going to go on without any issues.”

Nevertheless, the cyber intrusion has and will present challenges for the board of elections, the biggest of which will come when officials upload sensitive and personal voter data to the so-called “poll pads” or tablets commonly used to register votes.

“That’s the biggest reason for needing a secure internet,” Ms. Manzella said, adding that there is still time before Election Day for the county to secure its information technology systems, “and we have contingency plans with the [Department of Homeland Security] and the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] that are already in place.”

The county reported last week that hackers calling themselves BlackCat had accessed personal data of county residents and other data, which they threatened to release unless unspecified demands were met.

The cyber intrusion has rippled across all county agencies, affecting payments to vendors with county contracts (including nonprofit service providers), title searches and real estate transactions, the issuance of county work permits, and other normally routine business.

Suffolk County Civil Service exams scheduled for Saturday have been postponed as the county continues to deal with fallout from the data breach. A new date for the exams has not been announced.

Suffolk County’s online voter portal remains down, along with all other online county services, but voters can still access absentee ballots or register to vote at their local Department of Motor Vehicles office or find mail-in voter registration forms at libraries, town or village halls, or post offices, said Ms. Manzella.

Oct. 14 is the last day to register to vote this year, and there is still time to utilize the Postal Service to send in voter registration forms or request voter ID cards. Ms. Manzella said the board of elections is doing what it can to encourage people to register to vote or otherwise engage with the agency in advance of this year’s Nov. 8 midterms in person.

The Yaphank office will be open all day on Saturday for residents who want to register, update a mailing address, access absentee ballots, or perform any other election-related business. The office will be open to the public again on Monday.

Early voting begins on Oct. 29 and Ms. Manzella says the board of elections will open 27 locations throughout the county — including the Yaphank headquarters — to accommodate it.

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