New York State Names First Ever Chief Cyber Officer

On Monday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced the appointment of Colin Ahern as the state’s first ever Chief Cyber Officer. A leading expert in cybersecurity, cyber resilience, and intelligence, Ahern will lead cross-agency efforts to protect New York State from increasingly prevalent and sophisticated cyber threats – working to ensure the security and cyber resilience of the State’s information assets and critical infrastructure and integrity of the State’s information assets.

“New York State is taking an aggressive, nation-leading approach to transforming our cybersecurity infrastructure to combat emerging threats and fortify our information assets,” Governor Hochul said. “I am thrilled to appoint Colin Ahern as New York State’s first ever Chief Cyber Officer. In an era of increasingly advanced cyber threats, Colin’s proven expertise and experience in the military, the private sector, and government will be critical to identifying cyber risks, enhancing our defense systems, preventing attacks, and ensuring that New Yorkers and our institutions remain protected.” 

Ahern will oversee all cyber threat assessment, mitigation, and response efforts—working with executive management at every state agency to manage cyber risks and prevent attacks. Ahern will also lead the recently-announced Joint Security Operations Center—a nation-leading, first-of-its-kind hub for cyber threat detection and incident response. Formed by Governor Hochul in February, JSOC will be critical to cyber threat information sharing—effectively linking New York State, New York City, local and regional governments, critical infrastructure stakeholders, and federal partners.

Chief Cyber Officer Colin Ahern said, “I am honored to have this opportunity to serve New Yorkers and work with Governor Hochul and her team to continue to build and enhance our statewide cybersecurity infrastructure. This administration is committed to leading the nation on cybersecurity, and I am so excited to join the front lines of that effort.” 

Ahern previously served as First Deputy Director of New York City Cyber Command and later as Acting CISO, where he led the transformation of a small cyber unit into a vast agency with more than 100 departments and offices in its purview. At the height of the pandemic, Ahern created New York City’s first ever cloud-based, zero trust security environment—a massive undertaking enabling Cyber Command to pivot to remote work while still effectively defending against cyber threats. Before beginning work in city government, he worked in financial services as a security engineer and cyber threat researcher.

Ahern started his career as a U.S. Army Officer, after enlisting in the Army Reserves following the September 11th terrorist attacks and eventually serving two year-long tours in Afghanistan. He was promoted to multiple leadership roles, and concluded his Army career as a company commander at the U.S. Army Cyber Brigade, where he oversaw the creation of a specialized cyberspace operations organization. His military decorations include the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Unit Commendation with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with 3 campaign stars, and the Knowlton Award.

Ahern currently serves as an adjunct Associate Professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and a Guest Lecturer at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. He received a Bachelor’s Degree from Tulane University and an MBA from the New York University’s Stern School of Business. 

Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said, “Thanks to Governor Hochul’s leadership and vision, New York has established a first-of-its-kind operations center for cyber coordination between local, state and federal partners. As Chief Cyber Officer, Colin Ahern will bring a wealth of experience to oversee the JSOC and lead our cybersecurity efforts across the state, in order to keep New Yorkers safe from ever-increasing cyber threats.”

The appointment of the Chief Cyber Officer builds on Governor Hochul’s continued efforts to establish g a robust cybersecurity defense infrastructure. Signed by Governor Hochul in April, the FY2023 State Budget includes $61.9 million for cybersecurity, doubling the previous investment. These investments will fund critical protections, including the expansion of the state’s cyber Red Team program to provide additional penetration testing, an expanded phishing exercise program, vulnerability scanning, and additional cyber incident response services. These investments help ensure that if one part of the network is attacked, the state can isolate and protect the rest of the system.  

This budget investment also includes a $30 million shared services program to help local governments acquire and deploy high quality cybersecurity services to bolster their cyber defenses. The interconnected nature of the state’s networks and IT programs means that attacks can quickly spread across the state. Many government entities often do not have the funding or resources necessary to protect their systems, some which provide critical services like healthcare, law enforcement, emergency management, water treatment, and unemployment insurance, to name a few.

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