The state of New York has appointed Colin Ahern, an international cybersecurity expert and military veteran, as its first ever chief cyber officer, four months after Governor Katahy Hochul opened the state’s Joint Security Operations Center (JSOC).
Ahern is primarily tasked with overseeing New York’s sprawling cross-agency cybersecurity apparatus to protect the state from looming cyber threats. He is credited with expertise in cyber resiliency and intelligence stemming from a career in private industry, the military and academia.
Governor Hochul lauded Ahern's hiring:
"New York State is taking an aggressive, nation-leading approach to transforming our cybersecurity infrastructure to combat emerging threats and fortify our information assets. In an era of increasingly advanced cyber threats, Colin's proven expertise and experience in the military, the private sector and government will be critical to identifying cyber risks, enhancing our defense systems, preventing attacks and ensuring that New Yorkers and our institutions remain protected."
Plenty on Ahern's Plate
Indeed, Ahern will have his hands full. In addition to leading the JSOC, New York’s hub for cyber threat and detection, here’s what’s also on his to-do list:
- Administer all cyber threat assessment, mitigation and response efforts
- Work with executive management at every state agency to manage cyber risks and prevent attacks
- Ensure critical services like healthcare, law enforcement, emergency management, water treatment and unemployment insurance are not disrupted
As for the JSOC, Ahern will be responsible for coordinating cyber threat information sharing, linking New York State, New York City, local and regional governments, critical infrastructure stakeholders, and federal partners.
Ahern's Impressive Background
Based on his background and familiarity with New York’s unique cyber challenges, Ahern appears well suited to handle the tasks at hand. He previously served as New York City’s first deputy director and also as its chief information security officer, fleshing out the transformation of a small cyber unit into a vast agency with more than 100 departments and offices in its purview.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ahern is credited with creating New York City's first cloud-based, zero trust security environment, which enabled Cyber Command to pivot to remote work while still effectively defending against cyber threats.
Ahern's military background includes managing the creation of a specialized cyberspace operations organization. He currently serves as an adjunct associate professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. He is a guest lecturer at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
New York's Big Bet on Cybersecurity Investment
Ahern’s appointment builds on New York’s fiscal 2023 state budget, which includes $62 million for cybersecurity, doubling the previous investment. These investments include the expansion of the state's cyber Red Team program to provide additional penetration testing, an expanded phishing exercise program, vulnerability scanning and cyber incident response services.
The state budget includes a $30 million shared services program to help local governments acquire and deploy high quality cybersecurity services. The program will fortify defenses against attacks that can quickly spread across the state's interconnected network systems.