Creating Civic Collaboration on Cyber for Cities

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A paper released by think tank New America on Thursday recommends that local governments build partnerships with Federal, state, and other local partners to prepare for major cyberattacks. At the Federal level, strategies for doing helping cities include providing grants targeted specifically to cybersecurity help, the report suggests.

The report, authored by Natasha Cohen, emphasizes the importance of cities and the services they provide, and says that securing city systems “is essential to ensuring basic safety, quality of life, and economic prosperity.” While the move to digitize city services can help provide better service to citizens, the report notes that most cities still struggle with legacy systems that support critical infrastructure and crucial services.

For Federal partners, the paper points to their important role in direct response services, such as asset response efforts led by the Department of Homeland Security, threat response efforts led by the Department of Justice, and intelligence support from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“The role of federal responders, particularly from DHS, can vary greatly depending on the incident and the needs of the city’s incident response team,” the report notes. Other concerns expressed by the authors include local reporting to disparate agencies, trust issues between local and Federal governments, and guidance that can be confusing.

On resiliency and funding efforts, Cohen notes that the closest relationship between Federal and local governments exists in DHS’ Fusion Centers, and suggests that DHS’ National Risk Management Center could play a larger role among local governments, along with more free training exercises.

The paper recommends that the Federal government institutionalize guidance and further define the authorities of Federal agencies in helping local governments. In addition, the Federal government should improve its outreach efforts to municipalities through multiple agencies, the paper recommends.

The report also recommends that the Federal government keep better track of how much it offers in grants for local governments, and offer funding sources dedicated to solely cybersecurity needs. Currently, the majority of grant funding comes from the Homeland Security Grant Program, which leads to “forcing the cybersecurity mission to ‘compete’ with the counterterrorism mission in a process in which all spending must have a counterterrorism nexus,” Cohen writes.

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