Mayor Bloomberg: Where's the cybersecurity?

May 27, 2011 10:23am

By Michael Kaiser, NCSA Executive Director

Mayor Bloomberg has noble intentions in making New York City the world’s highest-ranking digital city and with the recent release of, “Road Map for the Digital City: Achieving New York City’s Digital Future,” he underscored this goal even further. The great thing about this plan is that it leverages the collective power of New York’s digital sector to keep citizens engaged, provide Internet access, and support municipal functions. The disappointing part is that the plan does not take an aggressive approach to cybersecurity and online safety – a flaw that could turn his dream of a digital city into a nightmare.

Overall, the mayor and his administration have a strong vision for making the city a leader in the digital age but the plan is nearly silent on the issue of safety and security.  And in times like these, with  record breaking data breaches and ever increasing cyber attacks, building a digital city focused on information sharing without an equal focus on security verges on irresponsible.
For sure the plan has tons of bells and whistles but all those great ‘gee whiz’ apps, the access to data, crowd sourcing and use technology for creating a citywide social network are for naught if they are not built on the foundation of a safe, secure and trusted Internet. Without that underpinning, citizens won’t participate in digital community; businesses won’t continue to expand their online presence and what could be the most powerful tool for the exchange of ideas will not be fully utilized.

A stronger road map would include: a broad sweeping awareness campaign to help keep citizens safe online; a comprehensive approach to K-20 education that graduates young people ready to join the workforce as cyber capable employees; and resources to build a workforce of cybersecurity professional’s that are protecting the city’s public and private networks and vast digital assets.

Recent research by the National Cyber Security Alliance indicates that as country – and this likely holds true for New York City as well – we have long way to go when it comes to cyber education.  The 2011 State of Cyberethics, Cybersafety and Cybersecurity Curriculum in the U.S. Surveyrevealed that just 23 percent of teachers feel well prepared to teach about the risks of cyberbullying, 24 percent feel well prepared to teach about protecting personal information online, and 33 percent feel well prepared to teach about basic computer security skills. Stats such as these should be taken into account when contending for the ‘worlds top ranked digital city,’ a title that should also mean city residents are well informed about how to stay safe online.

Another surprising deficit in the roadmap plan was the lack of active engagement of law enforcement in the digital future. 

Crimes have digital footprints – from voice mails, text messages, or social network posts used to harass or intimidate a stalking victim or location data that show some one was actually the scene of a crime. Additionally, victims are experiencing crimes that originate from across the globe as cybercriminals steal money and data from governments, business and individuals.  New York as leader in so many areas of industry and culture has vast amounts of intellectual property housed on networks across the five boroughs that are prime targets.  Training law enforcement to police in the digital age and ensuring the victims of cybercrime needs can be met are essential measures of a prepared and compassionate digital city.

Most cybersecurity discussions start with protecting critical infrastructure such as banking, transportation and utilities that are becoming increasingly dependent on the Internet as a backbone of their operations. A digital city of the future would put resistance to attacks and add resilience if an attack occurs as their number one objective to creating a digital city. After all, if the networks that are the arteries of the city’s data and services stop working, the city stops working as well.

The Mayors plan is well-intentioned just not fully conceived. It’s more a beta for a digital city than a version 1.0. The good news is that based on some cutting edge efforts going on in other places around the country such as in Michigan with Washtenaw County Cyber Citizenship Coalition and the Securing Our eCity project in San Diego, New York would likely find leaders from across the country to help achieve its goals. Mayor Bloomberg should have little problem finding help with realizing his dream.