Key Republican lawmaker introduces legislation to defend state, local governments against cyberattacks

Key Republican lawmaker introduces legislation to defend state, local governments against cyberattacks
© Greg Nash

Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoProgressive group unveils first slate of 2020 congressional endorsements Democratic lawmakers call on Judiciary Committee to advance 'revenge porn' law Katie Hill resignation reignites push for federal 'revenge porn' law MORE (R-N.Y.) introduced legislation Friday designed to help state and local governments defend against cyberattacks on the heels of debilitating ransomware attacks across the country.

The State and Local Government Cybersecurity Improvement Act would direct the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) cybersecurity agency to create a “resource guide” to assist state and local government officials in preparing for, defending against and recovering from a cyberattack. 

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The legislation would also create grant programs to make funds available for officials to bolster cybersecurity of state and local government entities. 

Katko, who serves as the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s cybersecurity subcommittee, said in a statement that “ransomware attacks on state and local governments continue to increase nationwide, leaving municipalities vulnerable and facing massive costs.”

“Many cities have outdated information technology, limited budgets, and lack of cybersecurity training which can make it easier for hackers to infiltrate networks. With recent attacks on the City of Syracuse School District and the Onondaga County Public Library System, it’s clear our community is no exception,” Katko added.

The Syracuse School District and the Onondaga County Public Library System were victims of ransomware attacks last month. Those attacks involved a malicious actor or group encrypting a system and demanding money, often in the form of bitcoin, to give the users access again. 

They were part of a string of ransomware attacks across the country in the past month, including 22 attacks on Texas entities, which mostly consisted of small local governments, and on school districts in Louisiana. 

Katko introduced the bill in conjunction with a roundtable hosted in his district in Syracuse, N.Y., on Tuesday between officials from DHS, the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center, cybersecurity group CrowdStrike, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and other stakeholders. 

“Our local governments face many challenges in defending their networks, and today’s roundtable connected local stakeholders with Department of Homeland Security officials for a discussion on identifying cybersecurity attacks, mitigating risks, and planning how to respond to an attack,” Katko said of the roundtable.

A Senate bill with a similar name to Katko’s was introduced earlier this year by Sens. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Senators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Democrats raise privacy concerns over Amazon home security system MORE (D-Mich.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump lunches with two of his biggest Senate GOP critics Budget process quick fixes: Fixing the wrong problem Why Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Ohio). 

This legislation, which was favorably reported to the full Senate by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in June, would encourage national cybersecurity agencies to share information and resources with state and local governments on cyber vulnerabilities and ways to recover from cyberattacks.