The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 22, 2021 1:00 am

On the alert - always

Cyberthreat monitoring requires constant guard

James Haley

It's likely that most of us have experienced some incident in which we've had cybersecurity challenges through our computers or smartphones. Unfortunately, we're seeing more and more cases of criminals trying to compromise our personal information and finances, to name a few.

Local government is being affected, too. The city of Fort Wayne, Allen County and City Utilities are under continuous attack, and we're working together to face these threats.

Every moment our firewalls detect intrusion attempts, and our public-facing assets are probed for known security vulnerabilities on a constant basis. We're also seeing a barrage of phishing emails.

This is not unique; every organization faces this.

While we need software tools to defend against intrusion, we also need the agility to make crucial changes when required.

When new vulnerabilities emerge, we're in a race to patch the vulnerability before the criminals can develop an attack and target us.

For example, in March we were notified of a major new Microsoft email vulnerability and patch. We had to apply the fix before the inevitable attack was turned toward us.

Thorough examination of our systems and simplifying our operations are key to staying agile enough to be ahead of the threats.

To keep local government running through our various computer systems to provide services that businesses, residents and neighborhoods expect and need, we proactively address cybersecurity, facilities and equipment needs.

You're probably familiar with ransomware as it's been in the news, but it's been a threat for years. And it's not the only worry. Locally, we have a data center that must be protected. And the creation of redundancies are becoming more important to cope with online and natural threats.

We also have to address aging equipment and our attitude toward it.

In local government it's in our culture to economize and make equipment last until it truly dies. In the early 1980s, I grabbed a particular old, used chair to be mine and fixed it over the years by replacing bolts and rewelding old joints. I used it for 30 more years until there wasn't enough metal left to weld.

Our culture and my role in the culture loved the chair and our ability to keep it going. We, and I, have to change that mindset.

Using chairs forever is one thing, but using network equipment is another. The world has changed, and stretching computer equipment past the end of its supported life is a false economy we can't afford.

We're making progress and are committed to ensuring we protect ourselves against attacks small and large. Recently, with the support of local elected leaders, we were able to fund a coming upgrade of software and servers and the installation of a new core network infrastructure. In the technology sector, these are vital assets that must be invested in.

You might not think about how crucial technology is for our community investments, quality of life, economic development opportunities, new jobs and public safety. It's why we must continue to be many steps ahead and proactive to protect Fort Wayne's resources and treasures.

Change can be time-consuming, expensive and uncomfortable. But failing to make these changes could be even more costly in dollars and lives.

It's my hope that residents and businesses stay as vigilant as possible with their technology use and personal information as city government works to be partners and good stewards of the resources taxpayers provide to us to help make Fort Wayne the best and most prepared community possible.

James Haley is chief information officer for the city of Fort Wayne.

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