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Cybersecurity for a Safer City

Farhad Islam, Director of IT, City of East Point, GA
Farhad Islam, Director of IT, City of East Point, GA

Farhad Islam, Director of IT, City of East Point, GA

A hidden war is being waged against American cities. Attacks are intensifying by minutes and casualties are piling up from coast to coast. This is because municipalities own valuable assets, such as utilities, and those assets are inadequately safeguarded. Municipalities will become even bigger targets with the implementation of smart-city technologies where intruders have potential opportunities to take control of entire city’s intelligent systems from streetlights to water and power facilities. We are approaching a future where cyberattacks can morph from a public inconvenience to a public safety issue resulting in the loss of lives.

As technology leaders in a local government space, we have an obligation to educate our elected officials on the importance of securing our key assets. We need to provide them with information on threat assessments in plain language and present them with options and strategies for safeguarding our network infrastructure. It is important to be honest with decision makers and set proper expectations that no system is foolproof. Working with decision makers, we need to develop rules, procedures and budgets for responding to cyberattacks. We need to insure sensitive data, information and systems with cybersecurity liability insurance; develop an action plan in the event of a compromise to get systems up and running in a short order.

How do we ensure that inconvenience does not turn into a public safety issue?

It begins with auditing your environment and performing a complete threat assessment. Register your organization with Multi-State Information Sharing & Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) and download their free Cyber Security Evaluation Tool (CSET) that will walk you through the auditing process and provide you with recommendations on improving your information technology (IT) security postures based on NIST guidelines.

Follow the maxim of minimizing risks in setting up network architecture. This means employing a network segregation scheme, such as the use of VLAN, which is essential in preventing intruders from hopping from one system to another. Layered protection is needed to fortress your systems and applications. It is no longer enough to just employ end-point-protection (Antivirus), but you also need to have your devices protected with Advance Threat Protection (ATP) tools. ATP needs to have the capabilities for predictive analysis and Artificial Intelligence. More importantly, a Next-Gen Firewall with network monitoring tools that have the capability to observe and learn the nature of activities to make decisions to quarantine or kill processes that are behaving unseemly.

With the proliferation of smart-city technologies, such as environmental control systems and intelligent systems, cities need to ensure those systems are isolated from network apparatus. Vendors will sell on convenience of accessibility, but an internal IT staff must ensure that all vendor products follow your organization’s security policies.

Cyber criminals find the human component as the weakest link; they are combining social engineering techniques with phishing email campaigns to penetrate a secured network. Organizations need to train all of their end-users on a periodic basis because majority of cyberattacks that are currently emanating are due to users’ inability to identify phishing from a legitimate email. Above all, cities need to invest in cyber-resiliency because it is the most effective way to mitigate risks against cyberattacks. With cloud computing and hyper converge technologies, it has become cost-effective to spin up a redundant IT infrastructure to perform replication of production systems. It is worth investing in a disaster recovery apparatus because it will serve as a lifeline for cities in unforeseen events and cyber-attacks.

In this pervasive world of convenience, it requires sacrificing some measure of convenience for security. As technology advances, threats are evolving as well that requires constant monitoring, analyzing and recalibration. As IT leaders, it is our job to educate our users and decision makers that complying with security policies and investing in security tools protects our key assets. It is no longer a farfetched concept that a hacker can take control of your utility and transportation infrastructure because we failed to safeguard them with appropriate security apparatus. Protecting our key assets should be a top priority akin to public safety for everyone and not just for IT staff.

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