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 KatkoExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support States plead for cybersecurity funds as hacking threat surges GOP Rep. Pete King to buck party, vote for Democrats' coronavirus relief bill 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“Many cities have outdated information technology, limited budgets, and lack of cybersecurity training which can make it easier for hackers to infiltrate networks.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 PetersComey, Rice, Clapper among GOP senator's targets for subpoenas amid Obama-era probe GOP chairman to seek subpoena power in investigation of Russia probe, 'unmasking' requests Michigan GOP candidate's Senate petition deemed 'insufficient' over signatures MORE (D-Mich.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanIs Trump encouraging the world's use of national security as stealth protectionism? House Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet 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.