Without IT Investment, One Virus Can Take You Down

May 12, 2015

Dave Mims, CEO, Sophicity

This article is posted with permission from Sophicity’s CitySmart blog and shares non-technical, municipal-relevant insights about critical technology issues, focusing on how technology reduces costs, helps better serve citizens, and lessens cybersecurity risks. Sophicity is solely responsible for the article’s content.
This article originally appeared on Sophicity's CitySmart blog. 

You might recall the story of Homer’s Iliad where the seemingly unbeatable city of Troy was brought down by a simple trick: the famous Trojan horse. Left behind by the supposedly retreating Greek army, the Trojans took the horse as a war trophy. But Greek soldiers were hidden inside. In the dark of night, soldiers leaped out of the wooden horse, unsealed the gates for the rest of the returning Greek army, and destroyed the city.

It’s not a coincidence that computer viruses today are sometimes called Trojans. It’s the same idea—one simple virus can take down your entire city.

It sounds like we’re exaggerating, but we’ve encountered quite a few instances over the last few years when a city will feel that investing in information technology is too expensive. They instead take shortcuts and feel everything is all right as long as nothing serious happens. But then...there is always an EVENT. And it’s deadly serious. A hacker steals financial information and money. Mission critical data is wiped out and there is no backup copy. The website is defamed and causes serious public embarrassment for days, weeks, and even months.

All because of a simple virus. The fact that it’s easy for even a tech-savvy person to occasionally be fooled by a virus means that you need more than a free antivirus program installed on your desktops. Here are some mission critical IT investments that you need so that it’s much less likely that a virus takes your city down.
  1. Enterprise-level antivirus software. For city operations, free or off-the-shelf antivirus software managed by employees isn’t sufficient to ensure that you are protected. Enterprise-level antivirus software is managed and updated by IT professionals such as your IT staff or a vendor. They ensure that it’s installed properly and updated regularly, and they receive alerts when any virus threats hit your city.
  2. Network equipment and security. Invest in a good firewall and set up your network security with strong rules about passwords, authorized access, and secure wireless access points. Your network security complements your antivirus software by making sure that your “city gates,” so to speak, are well guarded and no one can get to sensitive data without the right password and credentials.
  3. Encryption. Assuming the worst and a hacker gains access to your data through a virus, encryption helps ensure that your data is worthless to them. In the past few years, there have been many government stories in the news where a severe cybersecurity breach was made worse because the organization didn’t invest a small amount of money for encryption. The result? Sometimes millions of dollars in repercussions that could have been prevented by an incremental investment.
  4. Website security. We’ve heard some highly publicized cases in the news about websites exposing social security numbers and other sensitive information to public view. Many cities and government organizations often neglect the security of their websites, but many websites now offer online payments, court record data, and other gateways for hackers to steal information that they then use to commit identity theft or steal money. Lock down access to your website and make sure any sensitive information is encrypted and secure.
  5. Data backup and disaster recovery. Assume the worst happens. Like many cities that experience a bad virus, let’s say you lose mission critical data. This is when an investment in data backup and disaster recovery is invaluable. We always recommend both onsite data backup for quick recovery and also offsite data backup for disaster recovery. That also means you need to regularly test and monitor your data backups to ensure they are working properly.
Rather like insurance, investments in information technology can seem pointless, unfair, and expensive because you don’t see anything tangible in your day to day operations. But that’s the point. A sign that you’re making the right investments is when your day-to-day problems are minimized. And when a virus hits, that’s like suddenly becoming ill or needing surgery. That’s when insurance saves the day.

Similarly, for cities that invest in information technology, they know that:
  • A virus will likely be prevented from ever having an effect.
  • If a virus allows a hacker inside, they won’t gain access to any useful information.
  • If a worst case scenario occurs, their data won’t be lost.

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