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Improving our country’s cybersecurity posture by assisting local, state officials

Improving our country’s cybersecurity posture by assisting local, state officials

Washington, DC, October 25, 2017

In a world where cyber hackers can compromise the electrical grids of entire cities or steal millions of people’s highly sensitive personal information in a matter of seconds, it’s critical that our law enforcement agencies have the tools they need to deal with these threats as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

It’s also critical that our cyber adversaries recognize that there are costs to trying to disrupt our way of life, and that their crimes will not go unpunished.

But while federal agencies – like the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Secret Service – have extensive cybersecurity resources, it’s often our state and local law enforcement officials who are responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes, virtually all of which have a cyber element, with far fewer resources at their disposal.

To bridge this gap, the National Computer Forensics Institute (NCFI) was created in 2008. This brought together the State of Alabama, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security to train state and local law enforcement, judges and prosecutors on fighting crimes involving digital evidence, network intrusion and forensic issues on computers or mobile devices.

Since that time, the NCFI has excelled at teaching its trainees to deal with the new challenges that stem from modern technologies like smartphones, Internet-enabled devices and financial information being stored online. To date, more than 6,700 local officials from across the county who hail from more than 2,000 different state and local agencies have benefited from its training.

And the training NCFI beneficiaries have received has a made real impact for the people they serve back home, including folks like Cass County Chief Criminal Investigator Cody Sartor from my home district in Northeast Texas. Earlier this month, when I visited the law enforcement center where Sartor serves, I was encouraged by his personal testimony that highlighted the benefits of his recent NCFI training. 

Sartor told me that the knowledge and skills he gained at the NCFI have totally changed the way evidence is process at his agency. Now, his fellow officers are able to clear cases much more quickly. And this isn’t limited to cases involving cybercrime alone – he said it makes a difference in all the work investigators are engaged in, including anything from drug cases to human trafficking. 

As chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, one of the biggest goals I’m constantly working toward is ensuring that our government is moving forward as rapidly in our efforts to bolster cybersecurity as our adversaries are moving forward in their ability to do harm. While we’ve got a lot of ground to make up, it’s steps forward like the training being offered at the NCFI that will allow us to ultimately get ahead of the curve. 

That’s why I introduced the State and Local Cyber Crime Fighting Act of 2017 (H.R. 1616) to authorize the NCFI, and I’ve been grateful for the strong, bipartisan support it’s received in both chambers of Congress.

Fittingly, this bill is making its way to President Trump’s desk during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and I believe its enactment into law will serve as a reminder that cybersecurity is very much a team sport. While international ransomware attacks and responses from large, federal agencies may dominate cybersecurity headlines, it’s my hope that folks will begin to fully recognize that cybersecurity also impacts us ever day on a very local level and that the training provided at the NCFI serves as a force multiplier, enhancing security not only at the state and local level, but all across our nation.

At the end of the day, the goal here is to improve our country’s cybersecurity posture and make our communities safer. I’m glad this bill takes a big step in that direction by giving law enforcement officials access to the tools they need to effectively prosecute and deter cybercrime, and I look forward to continue leading on this important issue. 

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) is chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure.