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Cyberattacks Don’t Care How Big or Small Your Municipality Is


Recently the Pennsylvania State Senate Communications and Technology Committee and the State Senate Local Government Committee examined cybersecurity fears that could affect local government and municipal authorities. Already there have been assaults on the Bucks County emergency dispatch system and the Aliquippa Water Authority. While gathering residents’ personal information is a critical concern, these attacks can also interfere with ways people satisfy basic needs, such as the delivery of potable water to homes and the ability to obtain help in an emergency situation.

 

In this changing world, protecting your municipal computer systems needs to be taken seriously. It doesn't matter if you have a population of 500 or 50,000; you must take measures to protect your information and operations from cyberattacks. It is no secret that master hackers are searching for any and every way to disrupt operations and obtain vital information in order to hold government hostage. You may not think this applies your municipality, but imagine the sewer billing system getting hacked, and all the users' information, including names and addresses, is copied. They may be able to use credit or debit card information that may be stored as well. You don't want to face that crowd at the next council meeting. It is guaranteed that they will not be happy and want answers. Don't wait for that to happen. Take steps to do as much as possible to ensure the safety of all your data.

 

We can't be lulled into a false sense of security when it comes to the risk of a cyberattack on a municipality, be it large or small. Local governments are at risk of cyberattacks, potentially leading to data breaches, service disruptions, or financial losses. Factors such as outdated infrastructure, limited cybersecurity budgets, and the increasing sophistication of cyber threats contribute to these risks. Implementing robust cybersecurity measures and raising awareness among staff can help mitigate these threats.

 

Protecting municipalities from cyberattacks involves implementing various measures to secure their digital infrastructure. There are ways to avoid these incidents. Employee training about cyberattack best practices, such as recognizing phishing emails, creating strong passwords, and identifying suspicious activities. You will need to install firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and antivirus software to safeguard the municipal networks from unauthorized access and malware. Keep all software, operating systems, and security patches up to date to fix vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of exploitation by attackers. It is important to encrypt sensitive data to ensure that even if it’s intercepted, it remains unreadable without the proper decryption key. Implement strict access controls to limit who can access sensitive information and systems within the municipality. Use multi-factor authentication for an extra layer of security. Develop and regularly update an incident response plan that outlines steps to take in the event of a cyberattack. This includes roles and responsibilities, communication protocols, and procedures for containing and mitigating the attack.

 

In addition, it would be wise to vet and monitor third-party vendors with access to municipal systems or data to ensure they adhere to proper cybersecurity standards. Consider purchasing cyber insurance to mitigate financial losses in case of a successful cyberattack. Educate residents and local businesses about cybersecurity risks and how they can protect themselves. Please encourage them to report any suspicious activities to the municipal authorities.

 

By implementing these measures, municipalities can significantly reduce their cyberattack vulnerability and better protect their digital assets and services.

 

 About the Author

David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 33 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at david@keystonemunicipalsolutions.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.

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