MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The stakes are high in the 2020 presidential race, not just for who’s on the ballot, but the ballot itself.

In 2016, Russian hackers targeted Minnesota’s Secretary of State website by scanning IP addresses and looking for vulnerabilities. The attempt was unsuccessful, and the state’s department of information technology vows to keep security tight again this year.

WCCO got a behind-the-scenes look into the room where a dozen people monitor threats from around the world. They have technology to notice certain patterns and red flags, investigate them, then stop that threat from doing any damage.

Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) is essentially the gatekeeper for the state’s websites, including voter registration, licensing, and state police. Deputy Chief Information Security Officer Rohit Tandon says protecting each of those valuable assets is a complicated task.

“There are new tools and technologies out there to help us defend better, but don’t forget the attackers are also becoming more and more sophisticated in leveraging their technology to achieve their mission,” Tandon said. “The challenge for us is to constantly stay a step ahead. That’s really where we’re trying to focus our energy.”

The most common threats, however, come in from phishing emails and malware, according to Tandon. He urges people understand ways hackers try to get in, and how to protect themselves against them, regardless of whether they’re affiliated with the state or are just protecting their own information.

“There are multiple layers to security,” Tandon said. “Having a strong password is one, having two-factor authentication adds another layer of security. Patching your system adds another. So it’s about building these layers that overall, create a strong security position.”

The FBI recently announced it too is stepping up how it handles threats online, by alerting local authorities directly.

Christiane Cordero

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