We see more than our share of declarations of emergency in Louisiana because of hurricanes and tornadoes.
What we saw recently was different: an emergency caused by hacker-hoodlums.
Digital thieves successfully injected malware in several computer networks in public schools in Louisiana.
Once the program is in place, it can lock the system down until a ransom is paid.
If there is good news in this, it is that Louisiana does have a plan to respond to these events. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ declaration of emergency is part of that, authorizing extraordinary actions to respond to this new and creative form of highway robbery.
The bad news: It’s a growing phenomenon and not just in Louisiana.
“It’s growing in use at the state and local levels because the attackers know government agencies, especially at the lower levels, are likely to pay,” commented Jeff Moulton, head of the Stephenson National Center for Security Research at LSU.
The agencies, whether school boards or parish governments, may face unacceptable risks to life or property if they don’t pay up.
Ransom is never a pretty sight.
This new incident underlines the degree to which a digitized post-industrial society is vulnerable to cybercrime.
Louisiana is not alone in this, but for state and local government in general, attention to computer needs is vital. That costs money, and all too often, our public networks — unlike those at say, a bank or large retailer — seem like budget items that can go unfunded in favor of more urgent priorities.
As taxpayers, we ought to be asking candidates for governor and Legislature this year not only what they’re going to be doing about cybercrime, but what they’re going to be doing to make government more efficient. As in the private sector, that involves investment in technology to make not only government operations safer from cybercrime but also easier for the community to interact with.
It is not a politically popular thing. As in private life, public employees may see a digital efficiency investment less as a better way to do their jobs, than a back-door way to eliminate their jobs.
Much of what government does is by its nature labor-intensive: teaching students, meeting needs of senior citizens or disabled adults, protecting young children in unsafe homes. Those jobs are not going to go away.
What will make those employees more efficient is up-to-date and secure computer networks and better ways to serve people. That should be a nonpartisan cause.