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CES 2019: Cities must boost cyber infrastructure before disaster

Last March, ransomware crippled the city of Atlanta’s computer systems, affecting its digital operations for more than a week.

The cyberattack was a sobering reminder that the infrastructure local governments must protect is no longer just roads, pipes and power grids, according to a panel of CES 2019 experts who convened at the Westgate Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Cyber infrastructure also is in place and is vulnerable.

“Most of the infrastructure we’re riding on today was built before most of the people in this room were born,” said panelist Chris Rezendes, chief business officer for Massachusetts -based Spherical Analytics. “And now we’ve got to go back and revisit that stuff, and it feels a little bit scary,”

The first step toward better security is figuring out where a city stands, Rezendes said. Finding shortcomings can be uncomfortable, like getting a checkup at the doctor’s office, but it can’t be overlooked.

“We have to run the baseline audit, and I think if we could find a new way to talk about that I think we probably could get started faster,” he said.

Preparing for disaster, whether man-made or natural, requires collaboration between the public and private sectors said panelist Chrissie Coon.

“Government doesn’t know what that solution is until they bring industry in and have a conversation with industry about what are your challenges and how can we work together to fix them?” said Coon, a former North Las Vegas Police Department employee and public safety leader at FirstNet.

The longer it takes a city to recover from a disaster, the worse the economic impact, Coon noted.

Michael Berkowitz, a panelist and president of 100 Resilient Cities, added that cities that take proactive steps to ready themselves will reap benefits when an emergency occurs.

“The conversation have to happen before, otherwise the response will always be sub-optimal,” he said.

Private companies may also collect data that government could use to prepare for disasters, but Rezendes said gaining access to that information will require building trust.

“That data is more valuable than gold or oil,” he said. “Trusted data is the oxygen of the enterprise.”

Contact Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter.

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