Albany Times Union Features CIS Award and Election Coverage
As American watched the historic presidential election of Donald Trump unfold Tuesday night, a little known group of cybersecurity experts who work out of a control center in Rensselaer County were making sure that voting systems across the country weren't compromised by a foreign government or computer hackers looking to disrupt Election Night. The group, a nonprofit known as the Center for Internet Security, works with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to provide states and other government entities with systems to monitor cybersecurity threats.
CIS President and COO, Steve Spano (center) accepts an award on behalf of CIS from the Rensselaer County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
And so after government security experts warned in the months leading up to Tuesday's vote that Russian hackers and others might be trying to influence the U.S. election, the Center for Internet Security was on high alert. "Last night was a long night," said Steven Spano, CEO of the Center for Internet Security, which is located at the East Greenbush Technology Park. "By and large there were very few issues, and it was a very successful evening."
The Center for Internet Security operates what is known as MS-ISAC, a round-the-clock cyber threat monitoring and mitigation center for state and local governments that is a partnership with the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications at Homeland Security. Despite the long night, Spano was at the Hilton Garden Inn in Troy Wednesday morning to accept an award from the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce. He spoke to a Times Union reporter about the election and cyber threats. Spano said that one of the biggest concerns was hackers trying to delete voter rolls, which could have caused massive delays at voting places, although nothing of that sort happened. State voting systems are increasingly connected to the Internet, making them more vulnerable to online attacks. Spano says that it is not just foreign governments that want to use cyber threats - there are also criminals and hackers that try and create chaos through cyber attacks on many government systems. "They sort of spread out the entire field," Spano said. "They're really hard to find." Spano, a former brigadier general in the Air Force who grew up in Albany and lives in Saratoga County, says governments can never be fully protected - and often have to play defense from cyber threats. "You can never get comfortable," Spano says. "You have to be diligent every day." Spano says that the Center for Internet Security worked with both the Trump and Clinton campaigns to help them bolster their Internet systems from attacks, but at the end of the day, the nonprofit could not take a side in the race. "We are agnostic observers and a neutral resource," Spano said. "We're looking after them without being political."