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Senator Hassan Addresses Cybersecurity Threats Amid COVID-19 Pandemic in Homeland Security Committee Hearing

Senators Hassan, King Discuss Critical Role of National Guard in Countering Cyber Threats

WASHINGTON – During a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) discussed the cybersecurity threats to COVID-19 response efforts and the role that the National Guard plays in supporting critical cybersecurity efforts. The hearing included leaders of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC), which recently released its comprehensive report on cyber deterrence.


To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.


“Prior to this pandemic, the health care sector was a top target for malicious cyber actors. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic when hospitals are already facing strained resources, I am really concerned that ransomware attacks could have a real impact on human life,” said Senator Hassan. “It appears that the threats are not just to hospitals now. [The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] recently released a warning that some nation-state backed actors are targeting US COVID-19 medical research efforts…Can you help us understand what we can do right now and going forward to improve the resiliency of our health care sector to cyber threats, including the current threats to these critical medical research facilities?”


CSC Commissioner Suzanne E. Spaulding discussed the significant risk that these threats pose, and discussed the need for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency as well as the Defense Department and Intelligence Community to be able to assist researchers, hospitals, and health care providers.


Senator Hassan also addressed the need to further support the National Guard’s role in supporting state cybersecurity. “Our current Department of Defense policy does not provide clear guidance about what activities the National Guard can conduct, or whether those activities can be supported by federal funding. I know this has been an ongoing issue in my state,” said Senator Hassan.


Responding to Senator Hassan’s question on what more can be done to engage the National Guard in their work on state cybersecurity, CSC Co-Chair and U.S. Senator Angus King (I-ME) called for the Defense Department to clarify its guidance to allow the National Guard to be reimbursed for these efforts. “The Guard is a tremendous asset. Let’s use it and let’s not have obstacles to its use,” said Senator King.


Senator Hassan previously called on Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf to bolster efforts to protect health care providers against ransomware attacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Senator Hassan is calling for information from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Intelligence Community on what they are doing to protect against terrorist threats amid the pandemic, citing as an example a planned attack from a white supremacist on a medical center in March.