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Eye on Boise: Governor creates Idaho task force to battle hackers

Idaho’s state computer network is “constantly under attack,” according to Gov. Butch Otter’s office, and that’s why Otter has named a new Cybersecurity Cabinet Task Force, chaired by Lt. Gov. Brad Little, to strengthen the state’s protections against computer hackers.

“Every day we’re being probed in some fashion, facing some sort of cyberthreat,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary. “They’re getting more and more sophisticated.”

Idaho hasn’t suffered any damage from hackers so far, according to Bill Farnsworth, who is with the Office of the Chief Information Officer in the state Department of Administration. But last November, the Idaho Supreme Court’s website briefly was defaced, prompting the state to take it down for a prompt cleanup and updates.

According to news reports at the time, the court’s website was replaced with a dancing stick figure, an expletive, and the words “Hani Xavi Tunisian Hackers.”

“The first thing we do is pull the plug,” Farnsworth said. “It was back up in less than two hours,” with all signs of the hack removed.

Then, on July 1, unauthorized access was detected to the server of another state agency’s website.

“They didn’t actually do anything,” Farnsworth said. “I don’t know if we just got to it early or if they were just looking or what it was. But we detected access. The server and website were immediately shut down and reconfigured, and we had it back up the same day.”

Not affected in either of those incidents: the underlying databases and vast troves of state information, all of which is far more protected securitywise than agency websites.

“Websites by their very nature are vulnerable, and are going to be constantly under attack,” Farnsworth said, because they’re “public facing” – the whole point is for the public to be able to access them. “They’re a lot more vulnerable than databases and internal stuff, which we can pretty much, most of the time, just lock the public out of completely. Obviously you can’t do that with a website.”

In addition to Little, the new group includes representatives of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, Idaho Transportation Department, Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho State Police, Tax Commission and state universities. Its first meeting is set for Sept. 16.

“There are bad characters out there that are looking for ways of compromising it, and they’re following the path of least resistance,” Hanian said. “What we’re trying to do here is ensure that Idaho is not one of the paths of least resistance, and that’s why we’ve created this task force.”

Resolution has expired

When I described the Republican Liberty Caucus of Idaho as being affiliated with the Idaho Republican Party in my Phil Hart article last Sunday, I wasn’t aware that an Idaho GOP resolution officially recognizing and welcoming the Republican Liberty Caucus to the state had expired. It turns out that the resolution, adopted by the Idaho GOP Central Committee in January 2013, expired in January 2015, as all GOP resolutions have only a two-year lifespan, and it hasn’t been extended. So the Republican Liberty Caucus of Idaho, whose vice chair is former state Rep. Phil Hart of Athol and whose slogan is “The Conscience of the Republican Party,” actually has no official sanction from the Idaho GOP.

Idaho Republican Party has just three formal affiliated groups: the Idaho Federation of Republican Women; the Idaho Federation of College Republicans; and the Idaho Young Republicans.

That’s not to say that Hart isn’t still active in the Idaho GOP. He’s the party’s elected Legislative District 2 chairman, serving a two-year term that runs through May 2016.

School leader named to Ed Board

Otter has named Linda Clark, superintendent of the state’s largest school district, West Ada, to the state Board of Education to replace three-term board member Rod Lewis of Eagle, whose term expired June 30.  Clark, who has a doctorate in education and recently served two years on Otter’s education improvement task force, “embodies the passion and dedication of Idaho’s professional educators,” Otter said.

He also reappointed Emma Atchley of Ashton to a second term on the board; both appointees’ terms run through June 30, 2020.

Wilderness bill advances

The Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill that 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson has worked on for more than a decade passed the House last week, then cleared a Senate committee. The compromise measure is backed by an array of groups, from conservationists to off-roaders to ranchers; the Senate version is sponsored by Idaho Sen. Jim Risch.

“The senator is pushing for a vote in the full Senate before the August recess,” Suzanne Wrasse, Risch’s spokeswoman, said Friday.

Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the Capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog at spokesman.com/boise. She can be reached at (208) 336-2854 or betsyr@spokesman.com.