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"Our Generation's 9/11;" Rep. Katko, Public and Private Sectors Discuss Cybersecurity Threats

Scott Willis
WAER-FM 88.3

Congressmember John Katko gathered Homeland Security officials and municipal leaders Friday to discuss the best ways to address the growing cybersecurity threats facing the public and private sectors. 

There have been ransomware attacks on at least a dozen Central New York School districts, not to mention Onondaga County’s library system in recent weeks.  Katko likens it to this generation’s 9/11 attacks:

"Before 9/11, we had so many threat indicators that something very serious was going to happen.  We ignored them, and paid a terrible price for that.  Businesses and entities don't always pay enough attention to cyber issues,  and as the threat builds, and as the conflicts grow internationally, it's a very serious component." 

Bradford Willke  is an assistant director with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

"This is not an IT security problem.  This is a risk management environment.  This is a business problem.  This is going to take a lot of disciplines to get their hands around it.  Having somebody courageous enough to walk through what they suffered during an attack, they types of questions they had to answer for management and executives, there's a lot of value there that helps teach others."

He says information sharing is essential for cyberdefense, response, and mutual assistance.  Thomas Minichillo is head of Global Threat Intelligence Operations for National Grid.  He encourages IT staff to be curious if there’s an attack.

"Training your staff to take that one step further, figure out who they're targeting...not just the volume of people, but what function they operate in the business.  They may be targeting them to get access to certain data or certain systems."

Credit Scott Willis / WAER-FM 88.3
WAER-FM 88.3
Mayor Ben Walsh, left, and County Executive Ryan McMahon expressed their concerns and observations.

And, that information can be shared with other agencies so THEY can be prepared.  Mayor Ben Walsh was at Friday's roundable, and emphasized information sharing across sectors.  He says preparation has far-reaching impacts on government.

"One of the very first questions the bond rating agencies asked during a recent visit was what we're doing about cybersecurity.  This is a fundamental threat to our livelihood in local government.  The experience the school district went through has certainly heightened our sense of urgency."  

Congressmember Katko is working on legislation that would require government and private sectors to share information, as well as create new grant programs for school districts and local governments mitigate cyber risk. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at