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Senator Hassan Urges Department of Homeland Security to Bolster Protections Against Ransomware Attacks on Health Care Facilities Amid Coronavirus Emergency

Following Feedback from NH’s Houses of Worship, the Senator Also Questions Acting DHS Secretary to Extend Deadline for Grant Program to Help Strengthen Security at Houses of Worship

To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.

WASHINGTON – During a hearing today, Senator Maggie Hassan urged Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, to bolster the Department’s efforts to protect health care providers against ransomware attacks amid the coronavirus emergency.


“Last week, a cybersecurity firm warned that public and private entities may be at an increased risk of ransomware attacks due to the spread of the coronavirus, as criminal hackers exploit staffing interruptions and decreased operational capacity,” Senator Hassan said. “I was pleased to see that the President’s budget request continues to increase investments in cybersecurity. However, we must do more to protect our state and local partners — and specifically health care facilities — against ransomware.”


Acting Secretary Wolf agreed that the Department of Homeland Security needs to continue its outreach to state and local officials to help guard these entities against ransomware attacks: “People are going to take advantage of any type of crisis – incident – that is going on out there, so CISA [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] is again pushing information out there that folks need to be aware of – a number of scams, incidents that are going on that are focused around corona or asking for money.”


Senator Hassan also questioned Acting Secretary Wolf about the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program that allocates funding to help protect houses of worship from attacks. Senator Hassan worked with her colleagues last year to authorize and expand the grant program in order to get more funding to community organizations facing threats of violence. In New Hampshire, faith communities became eligible for this funding for the very first time last year.


Senator Hassan told Acting Secretary Wolf that houses of worship in New Hampshire, many of which are applying for the first time to this grant program, are scrambling to get in their applications to meet the deadline for the grant program, which is nearly three weeks earlier than the maximum allowable time for applications under current law.  


When asked whether the Department would give these houses of worship more time to apply for this year’s grant program, Acting Secretary Wolf said, “Let me definitely take that one back and understand the difference on that three week period, but I don’t see a problem with that.”


In addition, the senator questioned Acting Secretary Wolf on the need for increased vetting of foreign military students and trainees following the shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola late last year: “The shooter was here on a temporary visa through which friendly nations send their military officers to our country for training and education. In the aftermath of the attack, the federal government re-screened the remaining Saudi military personnel here for this program and found that 17 had shared jihadist material online and 15 were in possession of child pornography.”


Acting Secretary Wolf said that the Department of Homeland Security continues to work with other federal agencies in investigating this incident, and highlighted the importance of ensuring that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is fully funded so that it can do its work, which includes security reviews for VISA applicants.