Resources > Cybersecurity conversation starters

Cybersecurity conversation starters

Worksheets to help you discuss cybersecurity with your IT and communications staff

When you think about cybersecurity, you probably think about highly technical things like servers, networks, malware, and viruses. It’s easy to forget that people are at the center of it all. 

That’s why leveraging relationships with colleagues is one of the best things you can do to advance security in your election department.

With these conversation starters, you can huddle up with colleagues to talk about your needs, ask the right questions, get on the same page, and set priorities. 

These worksheets come from the Election Cybersecurity curriculum designed by Center for Tech and Civic Life and Center for Democracy and Technology. You can learn more and enroll in the self-paced cybersecurity courses at any time.

What you’ll need

What you’ll need

  • Microsoft Word or Google Docs to edit the worksheets
  • Colleagues whose responsibilities include website maintenance, network security, and communications
Getting started

Getting Started

Chances are good that you’ve learned a lot about cybersecurity in the last few years. You’ve got good passwords. You know how to spot a phishing email. Maybe you’ve even seen a tabletop exercise or two. What’s next?

For an election official, working on relationships is a key step to help tackle cybersecurity. Cybersecurity takes teamwork, and these conversation starters will help make sure you and your staff are rowing in the same direction.

Tips to make your conversation a success

  • Try to reduce stress and turf conflict. Instead of inviting your colleague to your office, consider scheduling a meeting at an off-campus location — like a coffee shop — and during a time that’s relatively calm, like a Friday afternoon.
  • Be prepared to explain election processes to your colleague. Just as you have taken the time to learn more about cybersecurity, your colleagues in other departments will need to learn more about election operations.
  • Use a theme of shared responsibilities. It’s not acceptable to have the attitude of “I don’t know about this stuff, so you handle it.” To show you’re taking responsibility, start the conversation by sharing what you’ve been learning and working on related to cybersecurity, and bring some questions that you can work through together.
  • Keep the conversation going. A one-off meeting is better than nothing, but to maintain your relationship, consider making your meetings something that you do every month.
Using the tool

Using the tool

There are three conversation starters: one for an introductory discussion with your IT department, one for an intermediate discussion with your IT department, and one for a discussion with your communications department.

1. Conversation starters for IT

How is your relationship with your IT department? Is it friendly? Is it supportive? Do you come to each other with questions and help each other out?

Or do you only ever walk down to their office or call their extension when you have a problem?

We urge you to cultivate this important relationship to work on things like software updates, intrusion detection, and staff training.

When you invite your IT colleague to meet with you, explain right up front that you’ve been thinking a lot about cybersecurity and want to share your plans and ideas with them. Your colleague may really appreciate hearing that security issues are top of mind for you and that you hope to share responsibility.

The “introduction” conversation starter focuses on things like intrusion detection and phishing, while the “intermediate” one covers the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cybersecurity framework and how it can be applied to your election system. Start with the first conversation starter and save the second for your next meeting.

Don’t have an IT department?

Consider chatting with your website administrator, equipment vendor, or emergency management team. Just adapt the worksheets as needed.

2. Conversation starter for communications

How’s your relationship with your communications colleagues? Do you meet up to talk about communications strategies and outreach plans?

Or, do you only get in touch to share dates and deadlines that need to be publicized?

In the event of a cyber incident, your communications colleague will be a powerful ally. We encourage you to talk with your comms team to get clear on terminology, draft a cyber incident response plan, and chat about how to publicize all the great work you’re doing to secure votes in your community.

When you invite your communications colleague to meet with you, acknowledge how complex cybersecurity issues can be. Explain that you want to make it easy for them to share election security information with the public. Your colleague may be relieved that you’ll be setting them up for success.

Don’t have a dedicated comms person or public information officer?

Consider reaching out to whoever writes press releases or social media posts for your county, city, or township. Just adapt the worksheets as needed.

3. Terms of use

We want these conversation starters to be used widely. Send them to a friend! Use them at your next conference! But, we ask that you do not sell them or their derivatives or remove attribution. In this spirit, the conversation starters are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

This license comes with the following use guidelines.

You may …

  • make changes to the worksheets — including but not limited to editing questions and altering the layout and format
  • use the worksheets for commercial purposes

If you post or share the conversation starters for others to use, you must …

  • credit ElectionExcellence.org as the source of the worksheets
  • make the worksheets available free of cost — whether you have changed them or not