Why Municipalities Should Care About Cybersecurity

Lena Eisenstein
5 min read
Similar to other businesses, municipal governments are finding ways to incorporate technology into their daily activities. The rapid expansion and availability of technological capabilities make that possible. The more that local governments use technology, the more risk they gain exposure to cyber risks.

Several things make municipalities vulnerable to cybercrime. Local governments have a wealth of information about their citizens. They also tend to have financial constraints related to cyber protection. One of the greatest hindrances is that it's difficult to replace or update tech systems because citizens rely on public services.

Cybersecurity is a challenging issue for municipal governments, but it's not unsurmountable. One of the easiest, most cost-effective ways that municipal governments can use to protect themselves is by using modern governance solutions.

Local Governments Are Targets for Cybercrime

While you may not have heard very much about cybercrime and data breaches at the local government level, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Local governments have been challenged by cybercrime for years, but they don't always report it.

In the spring of 2019, several municipalities were victims of cybercrime. City-owned computers in Greenville, North Carolina had to be disconnected after staff discovered that they were infected with ransomware. Imperial County in California was also hit with ransomware which caused some city systems to malfunction including some of their phone lines. Systems in Stuart, Florida also had to be shut down after they discovered that ransomware had affected their payroll, utilities, police, fire, and other vital functions were affected. Around the same time, malware crippled the city's computer network in Augusta, Maine. A municipal airport's systems in Cleveland, Ohio, were infected with malware causing the airport's flight and baggage information boards to blackout for at least five days. Ways Criminals Attack Local Governments Cybercriminals are generally classified as white hat, black hat, or gray hat. White hat cyber-attackers find security vulnerabilities and disclose them to the developer. A black hat actor performs illegal activities for personal gain. Gray hat attacks attempt to compromise an organization without permission and then let them fix the problem.

Cyber terrorism is disruptive activity that terrorist groups use to further their political agendas or ideas. cyber warfare occurs when nation-states use information technology to break through another nation's networks to cause damage or disruption. Cyber espionage is a means of obtaining secret information without permission from its owners to gain strategic, political, economic, or military advantage.

How to Protect Your Municipal Board

The burden of cybersecurity usually lies with the city manager. It's important for the city manager to understand the cyber environment and the risks it carries and adapt bests practices for the good of the community. City managers must think strategically and advocate for more federal funding because state and federal programs are interrelated. Cyber attackers often strike whole regions, so city managers may find it helpful to share information with other local governments.

City managers must educate their department heads about cybersecurity priorities and consider those priorities in their procurement processes. City managers or their tech teams will need to define baselines for cybersecurity and establish minimum security baselines. There also needs to be a system for monitoring security continually.

The individual in charge of cybersecurity will need to set expectations for sharing threats and vulnerabilities, create a cross-city vehicle for sharing information, and run cyber drills to test their game plans. City managers also need to ensure that their staff is familiar with and willing to apply relevant national or international standards for information-sharing.

It's common for cybersecurity issues to begin from the inside where employees unintentionally clicked on a malware link or compromised computer systems in some other manner. This is why city managers should emphasize the importance of developing awareness campaigns and develop workforce training programs around cybersecurity.

Other things that municipalities can do to are to engage the private sector and tap into national resources. Local universities may also be able to provide valuable resources.

One of the things that municipalities sometimes overlook is how insurance policies can help to mitigate losses associated with cybersecurity, media communications, data breach responses, and cyber extortion.

Community by Diligent is the Modern Governance Solution to Cybersecurity

Community by Diligent is an electronic council meeting management system that has a highly secure security system built directly into the platform. In addition to being able to get rid of outdated paper-laden manual processes for council meetings, Community streamlines meeting preparation and increases efficiency in all meeting processes.

Community uses mobile-first technology, which means that council members, staff, and citizens can access information using any mobile device for the utmost in convenience. Community addresses gaps in governance issues which enable city clerks and other local government leaders to achieve excellence in modern governance.

Community by Diligent builds on Diligent's deep experience in offering digital governance solutions to corporate boards. It supports responsiveness to their constituencies through an integrated set of technologies, insights, and processes with a design that caters to the needs of local governments. Community ensures full public visibility into current and past board materials for all community members including public notifications on updates and a full search capability.

For your citizens, Community offers the ability to access all publicly approved current and past meeting documents anytime, anywhere. Accessibility applies to all citizens in your community including those who are handicapped or differently-abled. Community enables remote access for those who aren't able to make it to council meetings in person. They have the ability to watch sessions via video conference for full transparency. Constituents can even sign up for notifications that will be delivered right to their inbox as the agendas for meetings are posted. Diligent worked to ensure that Community is ADA compliant by surpassing WCAG 2.1 AA compliance requirements.

In essence, municipalities should care about cybersecurity because every local government is at risk of an occurrence. Technology is here to stay, and it will continue to bring risks with it. Implementing Community by Diligent is a local government's first step toward protecting local government information while ensuring accountability and transparency.