By Robert Cochran, October 5, 2017 | Pennsylvania Legislative Services Intern


In light of Cyber Security Month, members of Governor Tom Wolf’s administration held a press conference this morning to provide an update on the state of cybersecurity in the commonwealth, revealing how agency officials are planning to greater protect Pennsylvanians from online security risks.


“We are all here today to discuss the collaborative efforts and accomplishments by the Wolf administration to protect Pennsylvania from cyber threats,” said Commonwealth Chief Information Security Officer Erik Avakian.


“Few of us can get through the day without the internet,” Avakian remarked, while discussing the numerous ways internet use expanded during the last few years. “This dependency of technology in our lives underscores the critical importance of cyber security,”


Avakian claimed that during his tenure working in state government, cybersecurity threats have increased in levels of volume, frequency and sophistication. Avakian said that in 2016, 1.2 billion emails had been blocked from entering the commonwealth’s servers and marked as spam. “This demonstrates the importance (of cybersecurity) in business value of just one critical security purpose that we’ve established in the commonwealth’s security fabric to protect and safeguard our resources from cyber thieves,” Avakian stated.


According to Avakian, Pennsylvania implemented a multi-layer strategic approach to cybersecurity, and that the state could be considered a nation-wide leader in cybersecurity. Avakian said that the recent security awards that Pennsylvania won indicated that the Commonwealth is prepared to handle online threats to protect residents.


“Cybersecurity keeps me awake at night,” said Secretary of Banking and Securities, Robin Weissmann. “Cybersecurity is one of the top priorities of the Department of Banking and Securities, and it should be at the top of every business’ (priorities) list as well,” Secretary Weissmann claimed.


“Deliberate cyber-attacks and threats pose substantial risks to our country’s financial infrastructure and even our national security,” Secretary Weissmann said. Secretary Weissmann remarked that organizations that do not recognize cyber threats at the highest level of their business lose clients and stakeholders. Secretary Weissmann claimed that she will be issuing an advisory on how businesses can protect against email scams that could potentially compromise inside and personal information.


Secretary Weissmann said that ten state agencies cooperated together to create an online cybersecurity guide for consumers and that the guide is available on the governor’s website today. “This is government that works,” Secretary Weissmann stated while revealing the communication process between different agencies.


“We are living in an age that makes simple tasks easier and complex functions more convenient; however, along with these advances in technology, the associated risks to consumers have evolved and become more challenging and daunting,” Secretary Weissmann said. According to Secretary Weissmann, due to the Equifax breach the Department Banking and Securities issued advisories for consumers and businesses which could be accessed online.


“Society’s increased (internet) reliance increases the threat from malicious hackers,” said Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro Cortés. ‘The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is mindful of this threat and works around the clock to protect its computer systems, network and infrastructure,”


Secretary Cortés discussed the potential threat hackers could have on the election process. “Voting is one of the most fundamental rights of citizens,” Cortés stated. “We must ensure that the right to vote is not compromised and the integrity of the election process is maintained.”


Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chair Gladys Brown stated that her duties at the PUC were for preventing Black Sky events, which are catastrophic compromises of public utilities. “An orchestrated cyber-attack on our utility infrastructure could have the same wide-reaching and long-lasting impact on our community as hurricanes or other natural disasters,”


Gladys Brown claimed that Pennsylvania is fortunate to not have suffered through a Black Sky cyber-attack and that the commonwealth practiced and prepared prevention and protection against such large-scale attacks.


“Cybersecurity remains one of the highest concerns of Governor Wolf and his administration,” said Pennsylvania Homeland Security Director Marcus Brown. “It’s important for all of us to continue to educate and update (residents) on how we secure our data systems and how each one of you remains safe in the cybersecurity realm.”


The government officials took questions from the press


Why hold this cybersecurity press conference now? Is there breached information the public is not aware of?

Avakian: We are holding this press conference because October is Cybersecurity Month. All the departments keep ongoing communication of online security all the time.

Secretary Weissmann: I think we are in a particular time and place where the proliferation of threats has a multiplier effect of being aware of security issues.

Gladys Brown: What we have found is that as we are educated about security issues, we realize how important it is for residents to have a general understanding about them as well.


As a citizen, is there something I can click on a state department website that would compromise the state’s security?

Avakian: The multi-layered approach to security protects against that happening.


You mentioned Black Sky events, but they are not hypothetical; they do happen.

Gladys Brown: Yes, they have happened in Ukraine. We’ve not had it happen in Pennsylvania. We do see an increased threat and it is vital for utility companies to have plans in place before the lights go out.