US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listens as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (not seen) speaks on deepening US-Australia Cybersecurity Cooperation on September 22, 2016, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. (photo by AFP)
The United States Department of Homeland Security cautions authorities to watch out for cyber attacks in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
So far, 21 US states have sought assistance from the department to beef up security for the November 8 election, said DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson on Saturday, amid reports of hacking in some states.
"These challenges aren't just in the future — they are here today," he said in a statement. "We must remain vigilant and continue to address these challenges head on. Before November 8, I urge state and local election officials to seek our cybersecurity assistance."
The statement was released in the wake of recent hacking reports in four states, including Arizona and Illinois.
However, Democratic and Republican leaders at the US Congress unanimously disagreed with any measure that would give the federal government more control over security in states across the country.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote a letter to Todd Valentine, the president of the National Association of State Election Directors, on Wednesday, voicing their opposition.
"For over 200 years the states have overcome every challenge to ensure the smooth function of our democracy," wrote the four Congressional leaders. "We would oppose any effort by the federal government to exercise any degree of control over the states' administration of elections by designating [election] systems as critical infrastructure."
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose state is among those that have not asked for any help from the Homeland Security, said the state was prepared to deal with cyber threats.
"We're better equipped to be more proactive, to move quicker if something does happen, and to react," he said at a meeting with two senior DHS officials on Thursday.
The officials also said they were unaware of any imminent threats.
This is while the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has been pointing the finger at Russia over cyber attacks in the run-up to the presidential election.

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