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How cities can brace themselves for the rising risk of cyberattacks

Cyber threats are a growing concern among both national and local governments, and unfortunately, old systems with multiple points of entry make most municipalities an easy target. The good news is that some preventative measures can vastly improve the security of both private and public systems, avoiding disasters like that of the Colonial Pipeline hack in May which restricted gas supply across the entire East Coast.

First and foremost, cities must make cybersecurity a priority, rather than an afterthought. Simple steps like segmenting networks so hackers cannot get from one system to another within a department make a big difference. Developing a “culture of awareness” means prioritizing security and keeping it in mind when making system changes. Many security loopholes exist because nobody had hackers in mind when establishing the programs.

Another key step is striking a balance between security and transparency. Cities are invested in maintaining public trust, but too much transparency can put them at risk. Likewise, security measures, like monitoring who uses the computers at the public library, can erode citizens’ trust.

Gary Brantley, Atlanta’s former chief information officer, tells Bloomberg that regular system monitoring or “basic digital hygiene” is his top recommendation. “If you don’t know what you have, you can’t protect it,” says Brantley. “The first thing I wanted to know was what our portfolio looks like, and how we can find what else may be out there.”

Between 2017 and 2019, there were at least 108 reported cyber hacks, most with steep ransom demands, and this figure is likely to continue to grow with the rapid advancement of computer technology. Fortunately, an increased emphasis on cybersecurity and heightened awareness of the potential risks of hacks can go a long way in deterring potential criminals from infiltrating a city’s systems.

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