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Katko warns of potential for ‘catastrophic event’ during cybersecurity roundtable

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Rep. John Katko, center left, with representatives from the Department of Homeland Security.

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) hosted a roundtable with local officials and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, to discuss the severity of cyberattacks and how to address them. This comes after more than 20 school districts in central New York were affected by a national data breach, which compromised student names, dates of birth, ID numbers and some email addresses. 

Cyberattacks also hacked the systems of the Syracuse City School District and Onondaga County libraries, this summer. Katko said the threat of cyberattacks on the U.S. is comparable to the threats that led up to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

“Before 9/11, we had so many threat indicators that something very serious was going to happen and we ignored them and we paid a terrible price for that,” Katko said. “I think in the cyber area, I think businesses and entities don’t always pay enough attention to the cyber issues and as the threat builds and conflicts grow internationally, it’s a very serious component.”

Katko is working on a couple of bills that would force businesses and government to interact on a regular basis about cyber threats, and provide grant funding to make systems more secure.

“It’s up to us to make sure we are 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.”

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said the cyberattack on the school district heightened the sense of urgency on the issue. He called it a fundamental threat to the livelihood of local government. And he said, it even came up when the city invited bond-rating agencies to Syracuse to review the city’s finances.

“Questions around cybersecurity were among the first asked by our bond-rating agency,” Walsh said. “So, clearly they’re taking it seriously and we are as well.”

Representatives from Homeland Security talked about what governments and businesses can do in the event of a cyberattack, how they can test their own systems, and stressed the importance of sharing information about attacks with other entities.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.