Mr. Krebs’s team worked with states to scan and patch systems for vulnerabilities, lock up voter registration databases and voter rolls, change default passwords, turn on two-factor authentication, and print out paper backups, all to build up “resilience” in case of attack. He was protecting, he said, “the crown jewels of election administration.”
When the pandemic upended everything, Mr. Krebs’s team shifted focus to securing vote-by-mail systems, despite the president’s campaign against them. That was when Mr. Krebs’s agency got in the White House’s cross hairs.
In interviews, Mr. Krebs countered Mr. Trump by saying mail-in voting would make the election more secure by creating a paper trail, critical for audits to establish that every legal ballot was correctly counted.
It also made state registration databases more critical: an attack that froze or sabotaged voter-registration data — by switching addresses, marking registered voters as unregistered or deleting voters entirely — risked mass digital disenfranchisement. Mr. Krebs made it his personal mission to see to it that every last registration database was sealed up.
When Mr. Trump called mail-in voting a “fraud” in his televised debate with Mr. Biden, now the president-elect, in September, Mr. Krebs contradicted the president at every turn, again without mentioning his name.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence that the ballot’s as secure as it’s ever been,” Mr. Krebs told any reporter who asked.
On Election Day, Mr. Krebs and senior officials held briefings with reporters every few hours to apprise them of any threats. Chad Wolf, the secretary of homeland security, a Trump loyalist and Mr. Krebs’s boss, even appeared at one to praise Mr. Krebs’s work. Despite small hiccups, Mr. Krebs reassured journalists that there was no major foreign interference or signs of systemic fraud.
“It’s just another Tuesday on the internet,” he said.