DHS secretary says there’s ‘little doubt’ US elections are a target of cyber attacks

(CNN)The head of the Department of Homeland Security warned state officials on Saturday that the threat from Russia targeting US elections has not dissipated.

Speaking at the summer conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Philadelphia on Saturday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the US intelligence community does “consistently observe malicious cyber activity from various actors against US election infrastructure,” according to prepared remarks released by the department.

“There is little doubt that adversaries and non-state actors continue to view elections as a target for cyber and influence operations,” Nielsen told the state officials, who are responsible for administering elections.

Still, she said, there are “no indications that Russia is targeting the 2018 US midterms at a scale or scope to match their activities in 2016.”

Nielsen said the intelligence community has also observed “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople, and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people — though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns.”

Nielsen’s remarks come a day after the Justice Department announced indictments against 12 Russian military intelligence agents as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, accusing them of engaging in a “sustained effort” to hack Democrats’ emails and computer networks.

“Yesterday’s indictments against the Russian intelligence officers are a demonstration that we will not tolerate interference with our democratic processes and that there will be consequences for foreign meddling,” Nielsen said.

The Homeland Security secretary also asserted that “no votes were altered” by Russia’s actions in the 2016 election.

The US intelligence community concluded in 2017 that Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election and that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” aimed at helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Friday also warned against growing cyberattack threats against the United States, saying in a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, that the situation is at a “critical point.”

The US is “not yet seeing the kind of electoral interference in specific states and in voter databases that we experienced in 2016″ by the Kremlin,” Coats said. “However, we realize we are just one click of the keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself,” he warned.

Homeland Security and top intelligence officials have been warning for some time now that Moscow is still a threat to the 2018 elections.

“The 2018 midterms remain a potential target for Russian actors,” Christopher Krebs, the department’s top infrastructure and cybersecurity official, told the House Homeland Security Committee during a hearing Wednesday. But, like Coats and Nielsen, he said, “the intelligence community has yet to see any evidence of a robust campaign aimed at tampering with our election infrastructure along the lines of 2016 or influencing the makeup of House or Senate races.”

CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this report.