By Madeline Meyer
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Lawmakers are hoping to put Louisiana on the map for leading cybersecurity efforts and tightening security loopholes. Members of the House Commerce committee on Monday advanced a host of bills that would curb cyber attacks and provide businesses with ways to use electronic currencies.
The bills passed without objection and now move to the House floor.
Building safe IT networks and shielding the state from cyber attacks has been a priority during this legislative session.
Earlier this month, the House Appropriations Committee advanced proposed legislation that would bolster Louisiana’s cybersecurity and IT infrastructure.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat running for re-election this fall, has promoted the need to build an IT and cybersecurity framework across the state. In late 2017, the governor signed an executive order creating the Cybersecurity Commission in order to address cyber risks across the state.
Rep. Franklin J. Foil, R-Baton Rouge, proposed legislation that would request the Louisiana Economic Development–the state’s business development agency–to study how businesses can adopt federal cyber security standards enacted in 2015.
“A malware attack can sometimes connect to 15,000 emails,” said Paul Rainwater, a representative of the state-run Louisiana Cybersecurity Commission. “You need protections for private industries to share that with state law enforcement,” he added, pointing to the need for information sharing.
Efforts to strengthen cybersecurity have spanned across the state. At a ceremony held at the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier City last Tuesday, officials, including the governor, announced the creation of a cybersecurity education center to provide training and further resources.
Educational programs related to cybersecurity, including undergraduate, graduate and associate degree programs, already exist at different universities in the state, including LSU, Grambling, Tulane, Louisiana Tech, University of New Orleans and at Bossier Parish Community College.
Another piece of legislation regarding cybersecurity was proposed by Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City. His bill would allow private industries and public institutions to coordinate and share information on cybersecurity threats.
Cybersecurity threats include any unauthorized actions that aim “to adversely impact the security, availability, confidentiality, and integrity of an information system,” according to Peacock’s bill.
“We used to think terrorists were guns and bombs, but now it is a computer system,” said Rep. Stephen S. Pugh, R-Ponchatoula after the meeting.
The push for enhanced security measures comes as cybersecurity threats are on the rise across the nation.
The FBI received over 350,000 complaints nationally and victims lost $2.7 billion, according to a 2018 report. In Louisiana, the FBI reported 3,469 victims of cyber crime and calculated $16 million in losses last year.
“Most of us are willing to give law enforcement the tools to be able to do their job to protect us,” commented committee chairman Rep. Thomas G. Carmody, R-Shreveport after the meeting.
Another bill, proposed by Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington, would urge the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions to study the regulation and licensing of virtual currency businesses, particularly bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency.
Virtual currency providers use digital money and convert it into monetary tokens, like a bitcoin. Will Haynie, owner of bitcoin ATMs in Shreveport, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, referred to them as “digital gold.”
Legislatures in Alabama, North Carolina, and Arizona have already taken steps to regulate virtual currency businesses. Microsoft and Reddit are two of the major companies that have accepted bitcoins as a payment method.
In the United States, the number of accounts for virtual currency transactions–also referred to as wallets–has increased to 34 million accounts since 2016 according to a recent report by Statista.
Rep. Stephen S. Pugh, R-Ponchatoula said that Wright’s proposal is a “good move to make rational decisions,” admitting that the state still has more work to do. “We are so far behind on technology,” Pugh said.