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“We are trying to be proactive in addressing the cyber threat,” Agent Kyo Dolan of the Secret Service told ABC News.
The Secret Service is leading a multi-layered effort to block potential hackers and other potential threats to the convention. The most visible part of the agency’s job, of course, is the physical protection of the candidates and the convention venue. There are the usual guards, gates and guns protecting the convention and its estimated 30,000 participants. But that’s hardly where the security ends.
Secret Service agents took ABC News behind the scenes in Philadelphia to show us some of the multi-layered, technological fortress that is in place to protect the convention’s critical systems, and computer networks.
“Every security enhancement available has been rolled out for the political conventions -– some you can see, and some you can’t,” Dolan said.
To combat the cyber threat, agents and analysts have set up an extensive computer monitoring system to track internet activity around the convention –- the command center at the convention in is close touch with the Secret Service monitoring center at headquarters in Washington. Agents closely watch various networks looking for any kind of abnormal or suspicious activity.
Dolan pointed out that national political conventions can make appealing targets for hackers.
“When our protected are on a national stage like this … they are attracting various personnel, various actors and adversaries that possibly want to either cause embarrassment, disrupt the evens, or cause –potentially—harm to our protectees.”
In addition to watching for cyber-attacks aimed at groups or individuals, agents are also on the alert for any internet activity that could threaten the critical systems of the Wells Fargo Center, the site of the convention.
Dolan agreed that it is no longer science fiction to worry about hackers being able to access internal system controls and cutting the power, or shutting off the flow of water.
“That capability is certainly possible,” Dolan said.
Added to the beefed up cyber-security, a tighter credentialing system has been put in place for this year’s conventions. Embedded in each plastic ID card issued is a chip that sends out a radio frequency that is picked up by scanners located at the various entry points.
“It’s automatically scanned,” Tonya Abbott of the Secret Service said of the new ID’s. “It’s not one of those where you have to physically scan.”
The scanners read the radio signal to confirm the person’s identity as they approach the entry, so the security personnel will know whether that person is cleared for entry -- or not, even before they arrive at the door.
The back-to-back Republican and Democratic conventions posed a challenge to the Secret Service, but Dolan and other agents told us they are used to the pace. After they finish in Philadelphia this week, some will be headed off to Martha’s Vineyard, to protect President Obama as he heads off on a family vacation.