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New Ohio Cybersecurity Law Sets Civilian Cyber Reserve Team

Cybersecurity legislation aimed at insulating Ohio’s election systems and electoral processes from hackers has been signed into law by Governor Mike DeWine.

The bipartisan law, which was sponsored by Ohio state Senator Theresa Gavarone, is two-fold:

  • Requires each county to audit three separate races to validate the outcome in every general election and even-year primary elections.
  • Establishes the Ohio Cyber Reserve—a new division of the Ohio National Guard that specializes in cybersecurity staffed by trained civilian volunteers. The cyber defenders will maintain regional response teams capable of responding to cyber attacks against Ohio’s local governments, businesses, critical infrastructure and citizens on an as-needed basis. The state is already taking applications to join the unit.

In addition, the bill seats the Ohio secretary of state, currently Frank LaRose, on the Ohio Homeland Security Advisory Council. It also establishes a chief information officer position. As a state senator, LaRose initially introduced a bill to form a cyber reserve in September 2018.

Of the new bill, a city’s mayor could ask the governor to call out the Ohio Cyber Reserve if the city finds itself unable to handle a cyber attacks. “Imagine looking out the window and seeing foreign paratroopers parachuting into your town,” LaRose said. “We wouldn’t tell a community, ‘you’re on your own – your sheriff department can fight off that threat.’ Well likewise, in the online world, we can now respond with Ohio’s best cyber warriors so these counties and cities have the support they need.”

A number of Ohio’s city and county governments and businesses have been hit by ransomware attacks, including Akron and Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, so far this year six states have signed in law election security legislation, including California, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. Last year, California, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana and Maryland enacted several similarly-directed bills.

On election security at the federal level, Congress previously appropriated $380 million to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to give to states for election security efforts in 2018. Last June, the House passed the fiscal 2020 financial services and general government funding bill, which includes $600 million to be given to the EAC to distribute to states for election security. And, last month, Senator Mitch McConnell approved a new infusion of $250 million to help states guard against outside interference in the 2020 elections.

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