LINCOLN, Neb. — In an effort to fortify its defenses against potential cyberattacks, Nebraska state Senator Loren Lippincott has introduced a bill that would allocate $200,000 to the Nebraska State Patrol for the purpose of hiring an “ethical hacker.”
The proposal, presented to the Legislature’s government committee on Thursday, seeks to employ a professional hacker who would be tasked with attempting to breach the state’s computer network, as well as inspecting election equipment and software for any vulnerabilities.
Explaining the inspiration behind the bill, Lippincott revealed that his nephew, who has experience in similar work, was the source of the idea. Notably, the lawmaker’s research did not uncover any other states that have implemented a program of hiring independent hackers, though he did note that Missouri has engaged a company that uses “white hat hackers” to provide similar services.
“We hope to lead the way,” Lippincott asserted.
Additionally, the proposed bill would also enable the hiring of a security company to provide hackers who can identify weaknesses within the state’s system.
The move comes amid growing concerns regarding security challenges faced by state and local election officials nationwide, including potential cyberattacks instigated by foreign governments, criminal ransomware gangs, and the spread of election-related misinformation that has led to the harassment of election officials and eroded public confidence.
This initiative was unveiled just as FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a warning regarding Chinese government hackers targeting critical U.S. infrastructure, such as water treatment plants, the electrical grid, and transportation systems.
On the same day, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency inaugurated a program aimed at enhancing election security at the state level, and following a recent cyberattack on government operations in Georgia that has presented election-related challenges in the lead-up to that state’s March presidential primary.
The underlying principle behind Lippincott’s proposal is that an ethical hacker can detect vulnerabilities before they are exploited by malicious actors, ultimately serving as a preemptive measure to safeguard critical systems.
In parallel with the hacker-for-hire bill, the government committee also reviewed an $11 million cybersecurity bill. This second proposal aims to empower the state’s chief information officer, local governments, and school districts to bolster their cybersecurity efforts through the purchase of security software and hardware, as well as training and preparedness drills.
Both bills garnered the support of several advocates and faced no vocal opposition during the hearing held on Thursday. In the following days, the committee will deliberate on whether to advance these proposals, which, if approved, would need to navigate through three rounds of debate to be passed in Nebraska’s distinctive one-chamber Legislature.