Amid calls for police funding, departments struggle to fund cybersecurity

As America nears the primary season ahead of the 2022 election, stories of rising crime rates continue to unfold as a source of political tension.

In the wake of the protests that followed George Floyd’s murder and subsequent calls for police funding, Republican lawmakers like Mitch McConnell have directly linked what he sees as “an explosion of violent crime” to calls to “fund police. police “.

“If these call centers (911) were attacked, citizens could be compromised in their ability to reach the call center.” Here, police block Broad Street near the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 2015 in Selma, Alabama.
Brendan Smialowski / Getty

2020 saw homicides in the United States rise from what early FBI reports estimate at around 25%, an increase from 4,000 to 5,000 more murders. The FBI doesn’t release its official totals until the fall, so that figure may change, but Gun Violence Archive reported 611 mass shootings in 2020, more than the totals reported for either of the two. previous years. Data collected by AH Datalytics reveals murder 17% for 2021.

While the focus on gun violence and violent crime will remain key political issues for lawmakers and police forces nationwide, a distinct form of crime continues to emerge as a threat to the security of the country’s forces. American order, and it is a form of crime that many police stations support less equipped to deal with than the threat of an armed gunman – a cybersecurity attack.

Since the start of the pandemic, the FBI has reported a 300% increase in cybercrime. Some of these high-profile attacks targeted the country’s police forces. In May, ransomware hackers claimed to have stolen 250 GB of data from the DC police force. In July of last year, hackers released documents they claimed to have hacked from the Cooke County Sheriff’s Office in Texas. The Azusa Police Department in California was hit by a cyberattack in late winter.

reimburse the police
“2020 saw homicides in the United States rise from what early FBI reports estimate at around 25%, an increase from 4,000 to 5,000 more murders. Here, people walk on 16th Street after “Defund The Police” was painted on the street near the White House on June 08, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Tasos Katopodis / Getty

News week contacted the Azusa Police Department for comment, but did not receive a response in time for the post, while the DC Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment.

Cooke County Sheriff Ray Sappington, who took office after the attack, provided News week with the following statement:

“I contacted IT and they told me that by the time the incident happened it was reported to the FBI,” he said. News week. “The FBI investigated and they advised against speaking to the media or the press about the incident.”

Sappington said the threat is nationwide.

“This data is secure today, and that’s about all I can tell you,” he said. News week. “As you well know, these incidents have increased in frequency all over the United States, and it remains a national threat.”

James Lewis, senior vice president and director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), studies the role of cybersecurity in governance and the future of war. He said the current cyber capabilities of hacking groups on local departments is a “no competition,” with a clear advantage for hackers.

He credits hacking groups’ prowess on local police to their limited cybersecurity budgets, and said defending against cyber attacks requires city and state departments to upgrade to the latest technology. , which can be costly and often may not seem like an urgent problem.

James lewis
“The police need to be able to move around, so they have to spend on gasoline and cars, which seems more important than cybersecurity,” James Lewis, senior vice president and director of strategic technologies program at CSIS, told Newsweek .
Center for Strategic and International Studies

“The police have to be able to move around, so they have to spend on gasoline and cars, which seems more important than cybersecurity,” Lewis said. News week. “The modernization of information technology is a problem across government because you can always say, ‘Well, we’ll do it next year. “”

Adjusting to the reality that police are now in a global cyber network and may be the target of attack can be a challenge for some stations, Lewis said. Ransomware attacks are a source of money for hackers, and information held on police servers can be sensitive enough that cities consider paying a hefty price to keep it private.

In the DC Police Department breach, the Associated Press reported that a number of files contained “sensitive and embarrassing private details.” Some of the files contained information on disciplinary proceedings dating back to 2004, the AP wrote.

Beyond embarrassment, leaking files can jeopardize ongoing investigations, Lewis said, which can make it more difficult to prosecute criminals in court.

As cybercrime continues to increase, it looks like this problem will not go away anytime soon. However, the Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency CISA) offers a number of programs and strategies to community police stations that wish to strengthen their protection.

David Stern, CISA (A) Division Section Chief for State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Engagement (SLTT), said News week that departments should prioritize cybersecurity as a “key risk” for their organization.

Stern said 911 call centers are sometimes served by law enforcement agencies. If these call centers were attacked, citizens could be compromised in their ability to reach the call center, which could seriously delay the ability of law enforcement to respond to the crime in question.

Hacker photographed in Paris
“(Cybersecurity) is just something that should be seen as an existential risk and a key business risk for all organizations,” David Stern, CISA (A) division section chief for state, local engagement, tribal and territorial (SLTT), told Newsweek. In this photo illustration, a hacker with an anonymous mask on his face and a balaclava on his head uses a computer on December 27, 2019 in Paris, France.
Chesnot / Getty Images

He said protecting against an attack requires high-level knowledge, which means managers must maintain a consistent dialogue with their cyber staff about vulnerabilities within the station’s digital infrastructure.

To help local services in their capacity to take these measures, CISA offers free support programs through the SLTT unit. The team answers questions, shares tips on best practices, and offers risk assessments. Through its assessment process, CISA scans Internet devices for vulnerabilities while providing weekly password protected reports.

CISA also assesses the knowledge of law enforcement personnel in determining whether employees are able to identify malicious phishing emails, a mode of attack often used by hackers.

In practice, Stern said the weakest link in cybersecurity is human risk. Implementing two-factor authentication, anticipating software updates, and creating a plan in the event of an attack are all ways to mitigate that risk, he said. Ensuring that police services implement these protective measures is in the direct interest of ordinary citizens.

“Implementing these basic cyber hygiene practices helps organizations manage risk more effectively,” Stern said. News week. “(Cyber ​​security) is a challenge for all of us in all critical infrastructure sectors, in different types of organizations, whether government or private. It’s just something that should be seen as an existential risk and as a key business risk for all organizations. “


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