OLYMPIA – In March, cyber criminals launched a ransomware attack on the City of Atlanta. The attack brought many of the city's online systems and services to a halt. Employees could not turn on their computers for five days, and residents could not access important government services.
After three months and an estimated $20 to $30 million in recovery costs, one-third of the city's software programs remained limited or entirely inoperable.
Cyberattacks are a reality for local governments. To better prepare Thurston County for potential cybersecurity challenges, the County convened a Cybersecurity Task Force in May.
Mary Hall, Thurston County Auditor, and Robin Campbell, Assistant County Manager, are the co-chairs of the Cybersecurity Task Force. Together, they lead a group comprised of other elected officials, department directors, and staff from information technology and other offices and departments.
"Recent attacks like Atlanta just reinforce the need to increase our investment in cybersecurity," said Hall. "We need to view investing in cybersecurity tools and staff as insurance."
The task force is responsible for coordinating cybersecurity efforts in Thurston County government, and identifying innovative ways to protect county information systems from cyber threats. The goals of the task force are:
• Develop an understanding of cybersecurity risks faced by the County
• Identify cybersecurity tools and resources to mitigate those risks
• Recommend implementation strategies
The task force, started earlier this year, is already increasing the county's capacity to protect against cyberattacks. Some of the steps the county has taken to improve cybersecurity include mandatory countywide cybersecurity training and additional security to prevent spam and phishing attacks.
One government sector facing a significant threat is elections. In 2017 the Department of Homeland Security designated election systems as one of 18 "critical infrastructure" sectors. This designation makes additional resources and tools available to election administrators.
"The attempted hacking of elections systems in 2016 was a wakeup call to many in local government about the threat of cyberattacks," said Hall.
On Wednesday, July 25, Auditor Hall invited members of the National Guard who are working with the state to protect election systems for the 2018 election to brief the Board of County Commissioners on tools and resources available to the county.
"The county is only as strong as our weakest link," said Hall. "Education, additional tools and resources, and a coordinated approach is our best defense against the growing threat of cyber criminals."