Washington CIO: Cybersecurity makes states ‘key to national defense’

With cyber threats going beyond just computers and networks and into critical infrastructure, states have become key to how the U.S. national security, the Washington state CIO said.

When Michael Cockrill joined Washington state government in 2013 after a career in the private sector, he predicted cybersecurity would dwarf every other main priority.

Nearly four years later, his prediction has come true.

“When I first took this job, I said ‘look, security kind of blots of the sun in terms of other technology issues in government,’” Cockrill told StateScoop in a video interview in September. “That is really coming true, and the natural evolution of it is that move from people caring not just about how we keep our IT data secure in the executive branch of state government to state government taking the lead on a statewide, and very soon to be nationwide, approach to keeping our country safe.”

Before cybersecurity, national defense was primarily a federal government responsibility, Cockrill said. But now, with cybersecurity tied in with critical infrastructure like power and water, states are playing an integral role in how the U.S. prepares for threats from beyond its borders.

“You’re going to start to see an evolution of state governments and state legislatures when they actually have to play a role in defending the homeland in a very real way,” Cockrill said. “When the bad guys come for us, it’s not going to be a kinetic attack first, it’s going to be the power and the water and the sewer systems, and those are all in the purview of the states.”

In his role as state CIO, Cockrill also serves as an adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee — who recently won reelection — and the state’s legislature. In addition to cybersecurity, Cockrill also avises on digital privacy and the Internet of Things. That advisory role, though, is something Cockrill sees more CIOs across the country having to embrace.

“That part of the job is sort of a new and emerging part of the job because most of the time IT is in a background role,” Cockrill said. “More and more, particularly cybersecurity is becoming a matter of public policy. You can tell because people keep writing laws about that.”

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