SALINA — U.S. Rep. John Katko didn't equivocate when assessing the cybersecurity threats facing the country.
"This is like pre-9/11," Katko, R-Camillus, said during a cybersecurity roundtable Friday at the Onondaga County Water Authority in Salina. "There is a lot of indicators that something really bad could happen if we let our guard down. We let our guard down before 9/11 and paid a dear price for it."
Katko's roundtable featured local officials, including Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
The meeting was held as central New York media outlets reported that several schools were affected by a data breach. Other agencies and organizations in the region have been targeted, including a ransomware attack on Onondaga County libraries and the Syracuse City School District this summer.
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There was consensus at the roundtable discussion that there needs to be cooperation between agencies to combat cyber threats. Bradford Willke, acting assistant director for stakeholder engagement at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, encouraged communities to share information about cybersecurity.
"It's a team sport we're really talking about for cyber defense, for response, for mutual assistance," he said.
Katko sees opportunities for public-private partnerships to share cybersecurity information. As a former federal prosecutor, there were agreements between federal, state and local agencies to share information related to criminal investigations. He wants similar accords in place to help local governments deal with cybersecurity threats.
He introduced legislation that would require the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to develop a guide for responding to and recovering from cyber attacks. The bill would also create two grants programs. One program would help state and local governments secure their networks, while the other would help government agencies cover the costs of cybersecurity exercises.
"It's up to us to make sure we're constantly doing a better job scouring our systems and having best practices and sharing information and making sure our guard is up at all times," Katko said. "We can never let our guard down because if we do, we're going to have a catastrophic event."