Why cybersecurity in state government is like babysitting

In Maine, the state’s chief information officer says keeping the state’s systems secure and protecting the public’s sensitive data is much like a “babysitting gig.” Just as parents expect the babysitter to read their children an educational book and give them vegetables for dinner, the public’s going to be upset if they come home to find their state government was instead providing their offspring a diet of ice cream and Netflix.

“I’m the steward. I’m supposed to take good care of that,” Maine state CIO Fred Brittain tells StateScoop in a recent video interview. “It’s not a political issue. “It’s not a budget fight. it’s about doing the right thing for the citizens of Maine.”

Cybersecurity has been the top priority of state CIOs for several years running, according to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. And with a rise in costly and high-profile ransomware attacks hitting both state government and local government agencies, analysts say cybersecurity will continue to occupy state government leaders in the years to come.

Brittain says that in speaking with other state CIOs, he sees that concern manifest.

“We’re not in great shape [in Maine], but that seems to be the common theme,” Brittain says.

But as Maine’s Office of Information Technology continues improving the state’s cybersecurity defenses, it must also contend with more foundational challenges. A statewide IT centralization effort kicked off 15 years ago still doesn’t sit well with some state agencies, he says.

Brittain on workforce:

“The three R’s: retention recruitment and reason. You really need to have all three of those to be successful,” he says. “We are now competing in a global market for talent.”

Brittain on CRM:

“How do we engage with our agencies? It is the partnership. Right now agency silos. But our mission is their mission. IT’s mission is the agency’s mission. So we have a very large one, because we have a lot of agencies,” he says.

Brittain on emerging technology:

“We’re building less and bringing more from the outside and integrating pieces,” he says. “Obviously that’s a big piece. That pendulum is going to continue to swing.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ midyear conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in May 2019.