Cybersecurity

Emergency agencies are wary their cybersec tech isn’t good enough

Just 15% of public safety agencies like police, EMS, fire, and dispatchers say they’re ready to handle a cyberattack.
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Mickey McDougall

· 3 min read

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The nation’s cops, paramedics, firefighters, and dispatchers don’t exactly feel confident in their ability to handle a surprise hack on their systems, according to a recent survey.

Just 15% of 1,825 public safety agencies who responded to a Verizon Frontline Public Safety Communications poll described themselves as “very prepared” for a cyberattack.. Around 56% reported they were “somewhat prepared.” Some 29% reported lesser states of readiness, including “not prepared,” “somewhat unprepared,” or “neither prepared or unprepared.”

Those agencies include emergency medical services, fire and police departments, and public safety dispatch/emergency communications centers. Of all of them, law enforcement claimed the most readiness, with 78% reporting they were very or somewhat prepared for a cyberattack.

Cyberattacks have become a major issue for such agencies—particularly ransomware, which has kneecapped police departments in several high-profile incidents in recent years. Earlier this year, the FBI issued a warning of increased targeting of local government entities that had resulted in “disrupted operational services, risks to public safety, and financial losses,” with smaller counties and municipalities most at risk.

In 2021, hackers struck cops in Washington, DC, stealing hundreds of gigabytes of internal data. Baltimore police have been hit twice, including a 2018 ransomware attack that took down computerized 911 dispatching for most of a day. A massive 2018 attack against the Atlanta city government failed to wipe police investigative records, but did reportedly destroy years of dashcam footage. EMS systems have also been hit, such as a Hudson Valley-based ambulance service that disclosed in September 2022 that it had lost nearly 320,000 patient records in a ransomware hit.

In the event of a natural disaster or crisis, according to the Verizon poll, public safety agencies didn’t come across as optimistic about their technology’s ability to “immediately respond and address the health and safety of your community,” either. Just 9% described themselves as “very prepared,” and 37% said they were “somewhat prepared.”

The survey also asked public safety departments about their top technology priorities. The top request by far was obtaining internet connections for vehicles (37% overall), followed by 5G network service and smartphone adoption. AR/VR training tools and drones came in far behind. 57% of agencies also said they wanted their current technology to have stronger connectivity in the field.—TM

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Top insights for IT pros

From cybersecurity and big data to software development and gaming, IT Brew delivers the latest news and analysis of trends shaping the IT industry, like only The Brew can.