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How Minnesota Protects Critical Services From Cyberattacks

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- As the United States warns about potential attacks from Russian hackers, Minnesota is making plans to boost cyber-security.

Gov. Tim Walz wants to dedicate $21 million to help protect the state's services and infrastructure.

"It's a hostile environment in the cyber space," said Rohit Tandon, Minnesota IT Services assistant commissioner and chief information security officer.

Here in Minnesota, it's not just Russia we're defending against. It's organized crime units and other nation states, too.

"There's a continuous defensive posture that we must maintain," Tandon said.

Minnesota IT
(credit: CBS)

And there's a lot to look after. Cybersecurity takes millions of dollars and thousands of employees to watch over critical state agencies like the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety.

And if you think breaches don't happen in the U.S., think again.

"We've seen some big ones over the last year to name a few, Colonial Pipeline, JBS foods, that was very close to home," Tandon said.

We asked Tandon about critical infrastructure like the energy grid or our water supply: Who is keeping an eye on that?

"We're always open to having dialogue about the threats, we're seeing and sharing that intelligence with them," Tandon said. "But I think they are an independent entity that is responsible for taking actions to defend and protect that infrastructure that they are responsible for."

Xcel Energy says it's working with state and federal partners to closely monitor threats from Russia.

St. Paul Regional water services gets alerts from those same partners if there's a serious concern. It also pays pros to stress test its systems to expose vulnerabilities.

Those vulnerabilities evolve with the times -- from email phishing during pandemic lockdowns to targeted attacks during the civil unrest of 2020.

Minnesota IT Services
(credit: CBS)

"We had multiple cyber hacktivists, if I may use that term, targeting to trying to disrupt through denial of service attacks," Tandon said. "Resources such as unemployment insurance, health benefits, even how we provide drivers license services.'

And as those potential breaches loom, Tandon says, now is the time to double down.

"It is a challenge we continue to deal with," Tandon said.

Tandon says his department offers daily briefings for all county partners to talk through current threats. There's also federal funding for broader counties, cities and townships that the governor is looking to match if his budget proposal is approved.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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