Cybersecurity researchers reported last week that Chinese hackers have breached the networks of six state governments since May. The news adds to the challenges facing state and local governments managing growing cybersecurity risks, including widespread ransomware attacks.
The biggest cyber risk facing state governments is ransomware attacks. This entails hackers seeking to extract ransom payments by compromising or encrypting sensitive data. Such hackers have successfully breached state and local government organizations in recent years. Between 2018 and 2020, nearly 250 government organizations were victimized by ransomware attacks. This cost them as much as $50 billion. Beyond the financial costs, these attacks can disrupt key government services, including public safety, and also put sensitive data at risk.
Congress and federal agencies have sought to help state and local governments manage the problem. Congress recently created a new cybersecurity grant program to award $1 billion over five years. This comes in addition to the billions provided annually by the Department of Homeland Security that can be used for cybersecurity. Congress also passed a law last year designed to help state and local governments transition to .gov domains managed by DHS so as to improve security. The federal government has also issued valuable guidance on how to prevent ransomware attacks and manage cyber risks.
But state and local governments are ultimately responsible for managing their own security. Preventing ransomware and other threats will require state lawmakers to establish cybersecurity laws, improve governance, and ensure that their agencies have the necessary technical expertise.
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