Hurd on the Hill: Securing America’s online presence in our government and our homes

Cybersecurity affects our everyday lives – including everything from virtual learning and working from home to managing election security. As a graduate of Texas A&M University in computer science, a former cybersecurity entrepreneur and former chair of the House IT Subcommittee, one of my highest policy priorities in Congress has been to defend our digital infrastructure.

With the November 3 election quickly approaching, we must not forget the crucial impact cybersecurity threats have on our election infrastructure. Unfortunately, many of our state and local governments often lack access to the technical capabilities and trainings that are required to address cyber vulnerabilities.

This Congress, I helped introduce the Strengthening State and Local Cyber Defenses Act, a bipartisan bill to help bridge this gap by protecting states and local governments against cyberattacks. The bill requires the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Multi-State Information Sharking Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) to coordinate with state and local election officials to implement practices that ensure the resilience of our election systems. Just because Russia or other bad actors did not tamper with ballots or reporting of election results during the 2016 election, it does not mean they will not try to do so in the 2020 election or future elections. If an intrusion were to happen we must have a coordinated, proactive approach to immediately handle it.

The Achieving Lasting Electoral Reforms on Transparency and Security Act, which I also introduced, requires federal entities to report known information regarding election cybersecurity incidents with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS and the Department of Justice would then work to determine within 96 hours whether an unauthorized intrusion into an election system occurred that could lead to voter information systems or voter tabulations being altered.

While these bills are steps in the right direction to help state and local governments secure their digital infrastructure, election security is not the only space needing improvement. Many do not realize how much cybersecurity has played an integral role in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic cast a spotlight on many states’ and localities’ outdated technological infrastructure by demonstrating the difficulty to deliver essential services such as unemployment benefits and proper public health tracking data. As Congress continues to work to bring more relief and stability to Americans, cyber attackers across the globe are taking advantage of this crisis by working around the clock to access our personal data.

I have said all along that our response cannot simply be about recovery and returning to the “status quo” before the virus, it must be about advancement and bettering ourselves for the future. That’s why the State and Local IT Modernization and Cybersecurity Act is a crucial solution that I introduced to help provide $28 billion for state and local governments to update their technological infrastructures.

With this bill, states and local governments could implement needed COVID-19 recovery efforts and enhance existing cyber infrastructure, such as workforce development sites, which can be used to file for unemployment, online food assistance and access public health agency resources. The State and Local IT Modernization and Cyber Security Act aims to ensure that states can regularly update their systems because we rely on them today, as we work through the virus, and every day.

As folks continue to work from home and go to school virtually, we must be aware of cyber threats and how to practice good cyber hygiene, now more than ever. Usually, when someone says the word “hygiene,” you normally think of brushing your teeth, washing your face or taking a shower. However, just as important in today’s increasingly digital world is our cyber hygiene. With October being National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to dive into the importance of cybersecurity, assess your current practices and practice good cyber hygiene.

Three easy tips that you can incorporate into your daily “cyber hygiene” are to: 1) create strong passwords for your email, social media platforms and any other online accounts, 2) only click on links you trust, and 3) regularly install updates on the devices you use. These three simple practices alone could keep you safe and secure online by preventing more than 80 percent of cyberattacks we see each day.

Cybersecurity threats to the United States grow every day, and our government, economy and society must work together to deter and mitigate the consequences of cyberattacks. This Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I hope all Americans recognize the increased importance of practicing good hygiene in our schools, jobs and elections. As the U.S. Representative for Texas 23, I will continue to do all I can to better our cybersecurity systems and ensure that all Americans are kept more safe and secure in the years to come.

A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where he is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness, and the House Committee on Appropriations, where he serves on the Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.


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