Secure Your City: Public Safety

by Sarah Harvey / May 16th, 2019

The components of every city’s public safety – law enforcement, fire, EMS – must perform their due diligence and meet best practices when creating effective cybersecurity strategies. Each department is targeted for different reasons, but each one impacts the safety of residents. You’d be surprised by how often cyber attacks against public safety happens and how little it’s talked about. Let’s take a look at five reasons why cybersecurity is crucial for public safety.

The Need for Effective Cybersecurity Strategies in Public Safety

1. 911 Centers

When there are serious cyber risks facing a 911 center or line, wouldn’t you want to do everything possible to mitigate the threat? 911 centers are the gateways of public safety. A compromised 911 line could worsen injury or property damage, and yet they are impacted all the time by cyber attacks. How could effective cybersecurity strategies benefit 911 centers?

The Need for Effective Cybersecurity Strategies in Public Safety

In 2018, Baltimore’s 911 dispatch system was attacked, causing staff to manually relay the details given by incoming callers. Obviously, this put a critical hold on the city’s ability to respond to emergencies. Fortunately, although this cyber attack caused inefficient processes, the city didn’t see a slowdown in responders’ response times. Within a week of this hack, the city determined it was caused by a ransomware. Frank Johnson, CIO in the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, called the attack a self-inflicted wound. Their IT team had inadvertently changed a firewall and left a port open for about 24 hours, likely letting the hackers into their network.

2. Law Enforcement

The information that police departments store can be incredibly sensitive – making it the perfect target for hackers. Hoping that law enforcement agencies will pay the ransom, attacks often find ways to infect computers with malware. WannaCry found its way into many police departments across the country, leaving irretrievable files in its wake.

Connected vehicles have ushered in a new era for cybersecurity, and this includes vehicles like police cars. Delivery of secure data to officers in the field is necessary for them to protect and serve, so effective cybersecurity strategies must be taken to secure the vehicles that they operate out of.

3. Fire Departments

Fire departments face many of the same risks that law enforcement face. Ransomware is becoming a more prominent issue, going after valuable assets. What happens when a fire departments dispatch system is intercepted? Lives are put at risk. Much like police cars, fire trucks are also connected vehicles that need to be protected in order to function as intended. What effective cybersecurity strategies make sense to implement within fire departments?

4. Emergency Medical Services

Medical transport is growing target for hackers – why? Ambulances must be able to communicate with hospitals, and this means GPS, WiFi, computer processors, and firewalls are all apart of medical transport technology. The threat landscape widens every time medical transport becomes more connected. What would happen if someone hacked into an ambulance tracking system in order to track, follow, and steal medical supplies from them?

These days, EMTs and paramedics can download patient records from an ambulance or send vitals directly to the hospital that they’re headed for. Intercepting communication that includes PHI is bad enough, but what if a hacker was able to take control of the ambulance? With EMS, cybersecurity becomes a matter of life and death.

5. Disaster Preparation and Recovery

Emergency Outdoor Warning Sirens are an integral part to public safety, as they prepare residents for impending weather. When sirens are victims of a cyber attack, it’s not only an annoyance, it’s dangerous. Siren systems around the country have experienced this, and each time, it scares residents. Initially, many city officials think it’s a malfunction and then later discover it was, in fact, a hacker. This happened in DeSoto, Texas. Sirens blared in the middle of the night and city officials finally made the statement, “It has become evident that a person or persons with hostile intent deliberately targeted our combined outdoor warning siren network.”

Key Cybersecurity Challenges within Public Safety

In public safety, developing and implementing effective cybersecurity strategies may not seem as important as the actual day-to-day job functions. Cybersecurity and IT versus responding to emergencies, putting our fires, and saving lives? Cybersecurity can’t continue to be left behind due to limited budgets, lack of leadership, or lack of interest. Contact us today to learn more about effective cybersecurity strategies for entities within public safety.

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