Congress Announces New Overhaul To America’s Cyber Security

( )- The federal government is trying to send resources to local and state governments to help them beef up their cybersecurity infrastructure.

Congress is looking to do this as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many local jurisdictions to move their essential operations online. At the local level, there is often aging technology infrastructure, which can be very vulnerable to cyberattacks.

As part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed by the Senate back in August, there is $1 billion set aside to beef up cybersecurity at various governments. Officials who are involved with the effort say they have learned their lessons from recent major cyberattacks that have happened this year.

The director of government affairs at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Matt Pincus, recently said:

“Cybersecurity has been the number issue and priority for state chief information officers. That hasn’t changed, but certainly the pandemic has exacerbated a lot of things in terms of funding, in terms of resources, and how to ensure that you are maintaining enterprise levels of cybersecurity while doing it virtually.”

Even before the pandemic, local and state governments were very vulnerable to cyberattacks, particularly ransomware threats. Multiple coordinated threats affected multiple city governments in Texas back in 2019, and similar ones have happened in major cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans and Baltimore since.

These attacks have debilitated services these cities provide to their residents and caused damages that totaled into the millions of dollars.

Because of the pandemic, many cities were forced to transition many of their essential services online. And while this created a much more convenient way of doing business with the city, it also made them even more vulnerable to damaging effects from cyberattacks.

There have been instances of major fraud surrounding unemployment payments and other extra benefits added during the pandemic. According to Pincus, 60% of the chief information officers at the state level said ransomware was their most pressing concern when it comes to cybersecurity. He explained:

“Certainly, this hasn’t gone away, and if anything, COVID’s been a good test case for a lot of states in terms of how they are postured on cyber.”

The Virginia Information Technologies Agencies rushed to transition everything to digital means at the start of the pandemic. Now, according to its chief information security officer, Michael Watson, the agency is in the “cleanup phase.”

While speaking on a panel at the recent Billington CyberSecurity Summit, he said:

“We had to be a little comfortable with being uncomfortable for a while there and looking at ways to try to limit our risk wherever possible. Now we are kind of doing a little bit of work to bring that back in and figure out what we want our risk posture to be overall.”

The bipartisan infrastructure bill would create what’s known as the State and Local Cybersecurity Improvement Act. Through it, grants would be made available from the Department of Homeland Security that governments can tap into for the next four years.

One-quarter of these funds would be set aside specifically for rural communities that are especially vulnerable to cyberattacks.