Wheeler, Kifowit team up to equip Illinois for rapid response to cyberattacks

The Illinois House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass legislation on Friday introduced by Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) and co-sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) updating state law to include cyber incidents under the definition of a “disaster” and to allow the Governor to delegate authority to the Director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to manage, coordinate, and direct state resources in response to any such incident. The legislation is House Bill 3523.

“It is critically important that we strengthen our preparedness and response policies to defend against the rising threat of cyber incidents,” Rep. Wheeler said. “Just last year there was a major data breach at the Department of Employment Security that compromised the personal information of more than 32,000 Illinois residents; and the Illinois State Board of Elections previously reported that they are under ‘constant threat’ from hackers after their database was targeted by international cybercriminals in 2016. By passing this bill into law, we are shoring up Illinois’ readiness to protect against cyber incidents.”

Under state law, the Governor of Illinois is able to declare a disaster and thereby trigger broad emergency powers for 30 days.  A “Disaster” is currently defined as an occurrence or threat of widespread or severe damage, injury or loss of life or property resulting from any natural or technological cause, including but not limited to fire, flood, earthquake, wind, storm, hazardous materials spill or other water contamination requiring emergency action to avert danger or damage, epidemic, air contamination, blight, extended periods of severe and inclement weather, drought, infestation, critical shortages of essential fuels and energy, explosion, riot, hostile military or paramilitary action, public health emergencies, or acts of domestic terrorism.

“The risk of cyber incidents is a very real, persistent threat,” added Rep. Kifowit, Chief Co-Sponsor of the legislation. “Our emergency management professionals at IEMA do an outstanding job responding to a wide range of both natural and man-made dangers to public safety 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In this digital age, they need to have the ability to respond to cyber incidents on a moment’s notice and act swiftly to protect Illinois residents. I am pleased to have worked with Rep. Wheeler to pass this bill.”

House Bill 3523 has advanced to the State Senate where it awaits consideration and final passage leading up to the scheduled May 31 adjournment of the General Assembly’s spring session.