Year in Review 2022: Global Cyber Threats, Midterm Elections
Attacks on state and local systems didn't let up in the last quarter of 2022, while governments nationwide prepared to keep the Nov. 8 elections secure and free from the influence of mis- and disinformation.
This year saw a long-awaited development in government support of national cybersecurity, with the release of the Notice of Funding Opportunity for the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program. Essentially, more details and a firmer timeline became available for the federal plans to disburse $1 billion for cybersecurity over the next four years. In specifics, September’s release related to $183.5 million for states, with 80 percent of that going to local governments and 25 percent going to rural communities. This all adds up to the federal government making a major investment in state and local government cybersecurity.
Government Technology’s Digital States Survey, presented by the Center for Digital Government,* went live in September, and several commonalities among states emerged. Chief among them was that pandemic-era changes around remote work and increased digital services delivery are seemingly here to stay. Human-centered design techniques also continued becoming more prevalent, an ongoing culture shift that plays nicely with the acceleration in digital services delivery. Other takeaways were that cybersecurity unsurprisingly remained top of mind, while states also upped their focus on data, both in terms of how to best glean insights from it as well as how to protect individual privacy.
Speaking of pandemic-era developments, digital equity remained a focus of local governments nationwide. In fact, several jurisdictions continued to push ahead with digital inclusion work. Boston, for example, took a closer look at online forms with fields such as gender. Oakland, Calif., meanwhile, began to extend a successful program that connected school kids to high-speed Internet throughout the entire community, while Mesa, Ariz., made great strides with RFPs aimed at boosting competition among private Internet service providers. For these jurisdictions and others, digital equity is poised to remain an area of focus for the foreseeable future.
In September Government Technology also examined the state of hybrid work in the public sector, finding that many tech leaders in city, county and state government have rolled out new policies or are in the process of doing so. For many jurisdictions, what remote and hybrid work will look like long term is fluid, but nearly everyone we spoke with agreed that work had been changed by the pandemic, necessitating a greater level of flexibility for state and local gov to recruit and retain tech talent.
Global cyber threats to state and local government became very real in early October when colorado.gov was taken offline in an attack that also had several other state agencies in its crosshairs. The state acted quickly to notify the public and make the most popular services available on a temporary site, reporting that it had fully recovered by the close of the next business day. Colorado officials communicated early and often throughout the outage, though as GT reported in the October magazine, some in government prefer to keep details about cyber incidents closer to the vest to avoid being further victimized.
In Cook County, Ill., adults at or below the poverty line established by the federal government will soon be able to apply for a universal basic income program called the Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot. The two-year program, expected to start in December, will send monthly payments to residents, supported by funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Most are expected to apply through an online portal built with user-centered design principles, with services available in 12 languages.
And as chief data officers convened at the Bloomberg CityLab conference in Amsterdam, they reflected on all of those hastily built data dashboards that sprung up as the COVID-19 crisis took hold. The rush to visualize, many argued, resulted in tools that failed to provide enough context to tell the whole story of COVID-19 in communities. “What we ought to be asking chief data officers for is decision support,” said Baltimore Chief Data Officer Justin Elszasz, adding, “Don’t tell us you want a dashboard. Tell us you need help making a decision.”
Nov. 8 marked a midterm election across the country, with 36 races for governor and countless other consequential contests down the ballot. With the 2020 presidential election and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection barely in the rearview mirror, secretaries of state and their equivalents in local communities engaged in unprecedented efforts to combat false and misleading narratives taking root and affecting voter turnout and the outcomes of elections themselves. A big focus of their work was pushing out accurate information via official channels and countering misleading claims with the truth. Partners like the EI-ISAC are key allies in getting quick responses from social media platforms in the event of verified election misinformation.
Election officials across the country have also moved in droves toward voting methods that produce a physical record of voter choices. GT looked at the election technology landscape nationwide, including the one remaining state that still uses direct recording electronic systems, which don’t offer a voter-verified paper trail. While specific types of systems in use across the country vary, experts agree that election audits are far easier when the system includes a paper trail to revisit after the fact — which is why that holdout state, Louisiana, is in the process of adding that capability too.
*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.