New Hampshire helps local governments with ransomware

As ransomware threatens to disrupt services at every municipal government office across America, state technology leaders like New Hampshire Chief Information Officer Denis Goulet find more of their waking hours are spent planning how to mitigate the threat.

In a recent video interview with StateScoop, Goulet says he’s seen ransomware infect local government offices in his state nearly every week in recent months. And while ransomware is less of a threat to state government given its greater resources to mount a defense against it, he says, officials can never let their guard down.

“I do worry about it a lot in state government because all it takes is one click,” Goulet says.

Goulet says his focus in addressing the issue consists both of raising the cyber postures of state offices, but also those of the local government entities with far fewer tools to protect themselves or staff to keep watch for threats. Many local governments have two or fewer dedicated technology staff, with some offices having IT directors who also split their time among several roles.

“We’re trying to improve the awareness and capability of our municipalities in New Hampshire. What are the things we should be doing to protect ourselves, how would they go about going about a very low level cyber posture to a higher level cyber posture that would protect the entities themselves, and of course they have no money, so how do you make that happen on a very small budget?” Goulet says.

New Hampshire is one of a growing number of states that has begun to address the cybersecurity resource shortage in local government in a systematic way. North Carolina state government has a similar effort underway to help its local governments, which includes memorandums of understanding that allow the state’s emergency management team to deploy to localities when they need help with a cyberattack and contract vehicles that allow local governments to take advantage of the state’s lower-tier pricing agreements with cybersecurity software vendors.

All levels of government have begun recognizing that more cooperation and resource sharing will be needed if the escalating ransomware trend is to be reversed. With at least 108 publicly disclosed ransomware attacks against government institutions this year, leaders of Texas National Guard now say that ransomware response has become a regular component of their operations.

How states respond to ransomware attacks against their own agencies is evolving, too. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday issued a statewide emergency declaration following a ransomware attack last week that prompted officials to disable several websites, the second such use of an emergency declaration in six months. Emergency declarations and treating ransomware incidents similarly to natural disasters has become a best practice in state government as the mechanism enables a state to mobilize its resources more quickly and enables agencies and the public to avail themselves of resources not usually available.

For better or worse, the cure for ransomware and all manner of cyberthreats usually circles back to user education. As Maj. Alan Dunn, the commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s cyber protection unit recently told StateScoop, “There’s always that one user who gets the email and wants to click on it.”

Goulet on his top priorities and projects:

“Right now, ransomware has been popping almost every week in New Hampshire. Not in state government so much, but I do worry about it a lot in state government because all it takes is one click.”

Goulet on how he sees his role changing in the future:

“In my mind, the CIO role remains a business role. In other words we look at and understand what the business priorities are for the state and for governments in general. And then also on the other side, be aware of the technology trends so that we’re there to help guide in a leadership role for the agencies and other state bodies to really get value for citizens and businesses in New Hampshire, leveraging technology.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 2019.