The Department of Homeland Security is honing its focus on how it helps state and local governments and small and medium businesses in the area of cyber security amid a number of recent ransomware attacks and continued threats to critical infrastructures, an official with the department’s cyber security agency said on Wednesday.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will soon release a “set of cyber essentials” that will be targeted at these “communities,” many of which don’t have a lot of resources to cope with cyber challenges, Jeanette Manfra, assistant director for Cybersecurity at CISA, said at conference hosted by the Washington Post.
CISA puts a lot of emphasis on “high-end threats” to critical infrastructures such as the electric sector and elections systems, but she said the agency also gets plenty of basic requests from smaller organizations asking “Where can I start? What do I need to do if I have $5? Where am I putting that $5 towards?”
The focus on the state and local governments and smaller businesses isn’t new and CISA has worked closely with these entities in the past, Manfra said.
“I think what’s new is that we’re really stepping up and prioritizing our efforts there,” she said. “Often times, the $5 problem can turn into a $5 million problem and many times just the interconnectedness and everything, many of these organizations might be public safety or they might be connected somehow in the supply chain of a larger sort of traditional critical infrastructure so we don’t think we can separate those two communities as much.”
Manfra said the focus will be on “building resilience” and helping these communities get the tools they need.
CISA in September hosted a cyber security summit near Washington, D.C., and included a session on its forthcoming Cyber Essentials.
The panel description read, “Just getting started with your cybersecurity program? Left out of the national cybersecurity conversation? Then this session is for you. Whether you are a small business, a local government, other community-based organization, you probably rely on internet connected tools and services to serve your population. That means you, too, are at risk of a cyberattack. Learn about CISA’s work on a community-oriented plan to develop a set of cybersecurity practices that can add practical advice to help defense against threats like ransomware.”
Over the summer, 22 towns in Texas were hit by ransomware attacks that affected their computer systems. In the spring, a ransomware attack crippled Baltimore’s computer systems and a year earlier Atlanta suffered from a ransomware attack as well.
Manfra highlighted some of the basics that any organization can do to help avoid becoming a victim of a ransomware attack such as backing systems up, patching software, spending information technology funding on “preventive measures,” and understanding how they can be helped by the federal government. She also said that CISA is partnering more with state and local governments on messaging around these best practices.