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State Names New ‘Cyberczar’ to Help Protect Its Networks Against Hackers

As NJ becomes increasingly reliant on computer networks, it grows correspondingly more vulnerable to expensive, intrusive cyber attacks

weinstein
Credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
Gov. Chris Christie (left) welcomes David Weinstein to the new cabinet-level position of chief technology office.

From filing tax returns to renewing car registrations, online technology is enabling state government to become more efficient and easier to navigate. But the same technology is also making New Jersey more of a target for hackers and identity thieves. New Jersey has only one viable option: stay ahead of the latest cyberthreats.

To that end, Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that he’s stepping up the state’s cybersecurity efforts by creating a cabinet-level technology officer and naming David Weinstein, the top cybersecurity expert from the state Office of Homeland Security, to fill the new job. A top state lawmaker also called yesterday for the creation of a new legislative committee to advance laws combatting cyberattacks.

Christie also announced during a public event in the State House the investment of $10 million in additional funding to help harden New Jersey’s information-technology systems against cyberattacks.

“Doing so will not only ensure that we protect the confidentiality, the availability and the integrity of our IT systems, but it will also ensure that we protect the privacy of our citizens who entrust the government with some of their most sensitive personal information,” Christie said.

The stepped up efforts to combat cyberattacks come a little more than a year after Christie signed an executive order creating a statewide cybersecurity agency, one of the first of its kind in the nation. The announcement also comes about a week after the nation’s latest high-profile cyberattack, the breaching by suspected Russian hackers of the Democratic National Committee’s computer network.

And for Christie, there is also a personal element to the push to harden the state’s information-technology infrastructure. The governor himself has been the victim of identity theft after Chinese hackers got access to his social security number and fingerprints several years ago following their breaching of the federal government’s cyberdefenses.

Christie’s personal information was exposed during the Department of Justice breach as a former U.S. Attorney. He talked about the incident during a GOP presidential debate last year while he was still one of the candidates seeking the Republican Party’s 2016 nomination, saying if he were president he would launch a counterattack and “have some fun in Beijing.” During yesterday’s announcement Christie said “there’s very little that’s more disruptive to your personal life and your professional life than being a victim of identity theft.”

“Before it happens to you, it’s (just) something that you read about in the newspaper or hear about on television,” he said. “After it happens to you, it is an everyday occurrence that creates risk to you and family, both personal and financial, and enormous inconvenience.”

New Jersey has already felt the impact of cyberattacks, including the use of “ransomware” that held the city of Plainfield’s computer network hostage earlier this year while hackers demanded online compensation, making national news. Rutgers University has also suffered from cyberattacks in recent years when hackers breached its computer network.

Christie said yesterday that Weinstein’s elevation to a $141,000-a-year cabinet-level position will help better protect New Jersey’s government servers against threats posed by aggressive hackers. Weinstein will be in charge of the state’s day-to-day cybersecurity operations and intelligence analysis. He will also work closely with the state Office of Homeland Security, Christie said.

Weinstein is a former civilian employee of the federal government’s Cyber Command at Fort Meade in Maryland and has also served as a consultant for commercial clients at Deloitte Consulting. A native of Westfield, Christie named Weinstein the state’s first cybersecurity advisor in 2014 and assigned him to the Office of Homeland Security.

Weinstein is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

“I’m appointing an individual who understands how to manage cyberrisk across a large enterprise like our state government,” Christie said yesterday.

Weinstein, who appeared with Christie to make the announcement, said he was looking forward to “getting to work.”

“Technology is both a great risk to the state, but it also presents great opportunities,” Weinstein said. “We’ll continue the work that we’ve done over the last two years to mitigate the risk.”

“We’ll also take very aggressive steps through the remainder of this administration to capitalize on the opportunity that technology presents the departments and agencies,” he said.

Christie said the new $10 million allocation for cybersecurity will come out of funds in the state’s current, $34 billion fiscal year budget, which is in place until June 30. The money will be used to harden state government computer systems against sophisticated cyberattacks and to allow for audits of the state’s computer networks and other infrastructure for potential weaknesses. All state departments will also undergo a cyberthreat evaluation, the governor’s office said.

Later yesterday, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said lawmakers should also consider creating a new legislative committee to help the state come up with policies to keep up with the growing threat of cyberattacks.

“As our dependence on data networks increases, cybercriminals find new opportunities to exploit people,” Bramnick said. “A standing committee focused on these constant changes would help the state better protect the public.”

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