Pandemic Highlights Need for State and Local Governments to Protect Residents in Cyberspace

As we predict the lasting impact that COVID-19 will have on our lives, we cannot ignore two major lessons learned. First, states, and governors, have extraordinary power and responsibility to protect the public from threats. Simply put, it is a mistake to neglect the important role state and local leaders play. Second, our lives will only become more “digital.” We are not just working from home in increased numbers, we are relying on the internet for almost all aspects of our lives—from telehealth appointments to Zoom bridal showers.

At the intersection of these two lessons is a growing need for state and local governments to protect their systems and citizens in cyberspace. As we are reliant on virtual connectivity to maintain essential government functions, the numerous ransomware threats that have taken down state and local IT infrastructure constitute a more pervasive threat. The FBI is also reporting a dramatic uptick in cybercrimes targeting individual citizens at a time where people may be economically vulnerable.

At the National Governors Association, our Resource Center for State Cybersecurity stands ready to provide governors with the latest best practices for enhancing cyber resilience. The Resource Center provides governors, as chief executives of their states, with the tools and state case studies to enhance their state government networks. But it also recognizes their role in protecting the public from cyber threats—including critical infrastructure partners, local government counterparts, and individual citizens.

The good news is that during unprecedented times, governors continue to demonstrate bipartisan leadership in state cybersecurity. During the pandemic, state cybersecurity professionals have deployed a record number of security measures, such as VPNs, to the state government workforce. State governments have thwarted cyberattacks, while simultaneously continuing innovative programs like cyber navigators for local agencies with little IT support, and statewide strategies with evidence-based metrics. Governors have also organized with their counterparts to advocate on the Hill for dedicated cybersecurity grant funding for state and locals, who are on the front lines with few resources. At a time when government is expected to do more with less, governors are providing an example of building resilience to the modern threats that have become all the more pervasive during the COVID-19 crisis.

Maggie Brunner, Program Director, National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices

Maggie Brunner is a program director in the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, where she specializes in state cybersecurity policy, homeland security, emergency communications and public safety technology.