Connecting state and local government leaders
The Department of Homeland Security is also evaluating the possibility of a new grant program to help states and localities fund cybersecurity upgrades.
The Department of Homeland Security will require more federal grant money to go toward cybersecurity projects in an effort to help state and local governments protect critical infrastructure, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Thursday.
In the past, DHS has required that a minimum of 5% of Federal Emergency Management Agency grants be dedicated to cybersecurity. The department will now up that requirement to 7.5%—a change that will bolster cybersecurity funding for state and local governments by $25 million, Mayorkas said.
The DHS secretary noted several ransomware attacks that targeted cities in recent years, including Atlanta and Baltimore, as he stressed the need for the federal government to continue strengthening partnerships with local agencies.
“Ransomware, like most cyberattacks, exploits the weakest link,” said Mayorkas during remarks at a cybersecurity event. “Tackling ransomware and protecting the weakest link will require partnering with state, local, tribal and territorial governments and private sector entities across the country.”
DHS is also evaluating the possibility of creating new grant programs, administered through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, that would support state and local government cybersecurity upgrades, Mayorkas said.
Improving state and local governments’ ability to fight hackers has taken on even greater significance during the coronavirus pandemic, said Mayorkas, noting that previous ransomware attacks “illustrate the risk to Covid-19 vaccine deployment efforts that depend on key production and logistics facilities.”
DHS allocated nearly $1.8 billion in preparedness grants in fiscal 2020. In addition to cybersecurity, the department also required a certain share of grant funding be used to address other priority areas including security for soft targets and crowded places, information and intelligence sharing, and emerging threats.
The National Association of State Chief Information Officers has advocated for more federal funding for cybersecurity upgrades in state information technology offices.
“This change will help states with their continuous and ever evolving cybersecurity challenges,” said Meredith Ward, NASCIO’s director of policy and research.
Even as cybersecurity concerns have grown during the pandemic with more government employees engaged in remote work, at least half of states allocate less than 3% of their total IT budgets to cybersecurity.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.